Strategies for Transitioning Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum
Disorders to Kindergarten
Anthony M. Denkyirah • Wilson K. Agbeke
Published online: 31 July 2010
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010
Abstract In recent years, there has been a rapid increase
in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum
disorders (ASD), worldwide. Since children with ASD have
limited social interaction and communication skills, they
tend to lag behind their peers without disabilities in many
areas. In particular, they are unable to easily transition
smoothly from one stage of their life to another. Transitions
from preschool settings to kindergarten and beyond should
be a critical issue of concern for educators and parents of
young children with ASD. The results of a survey com-
pleted by 65 preschool teachers from Ghana and 210 of their
counterparts in the United States of America, about char-
acteristics of effective transition programs for children with
ASD, are presented. Implications for preschool teacher
preparation and transition planning are discussed.
Keywords Transition planning Á Preschool Á Autism
spectrum disorders Á Vertical transitions Á Horizontal
The life of a child with autism spectrum disorders (ASD),
like all other children, consists of several transitions. Some
transitions require greater coping skills than others. The
nature of transition that preschoolers with ASD experience,
as they move to kindergarten, can have long-term impact
on their school and post-school life (Forest et al. 2004;
National Research Council 2001).
The education of children with ASD has received
greater attention in the last 20 years. For instance, in the
United States of America (USA), comprehensive federal
government support for the education of children with ASD
was accepted as a public responsibility as part of the
Education Act of All Handicapped Children in 1975 [now
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)].
However, there have been considerable variations in how
states provide services to children with ASD, and courts
have been increasingly called upon to determine appro-
priate educational services for those children (National
Research Council 2001).
In Ghana, it was in the last decade that early childhood
general and special education programs became well-
organized and supervised under the Ministry of Education
(UNESCO 2007). Early childhood special education per-
sonnel preparation programs in Ghana are, therefore, a
recent addition to that country’s educational system.
Research conﬁrms that early intervention programs for
children with developmental disabilities produce positive
outcomes (Dawson et al. 2009; Rice and O’Brien 1990;
Rosenkotter et al. 2001; Rule et al. 1991; Stoner et al.
2007; Wittmer et al. 1996). For instance, Rice and O’Brien
(1990), Rule et al. (1990), and Wittmer et al. (1996) found
that children with ASD, who receive appropriate services
in their preschool years, are better able to face academic
challenges and to continue to develop long-lasting cogni-
tive and social skills. How smoothly a child with ASD
transitions from preschool to kindergarten and beyond
depends partly on strategies educators adopt when working
with that child and his or her family (Harris and Handel-
man 2000; Wolery 1997).
A. M. Denkyirah (&)
Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders,
Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, IL 62026, USA
W. K. Agbeke
University of Education, Winneba, Ghana
Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 38:265–270
Children with ASD experience greater transition difﬁ-
culties because of social and communication deﬁcits
associated with their disability (Forest et al. 2004). Spe-
ciﬁcally, social and communication deﬁcits limit the
child’s interactions with peers and care-takers, thus making
transitions to new social, academic, and physical settings
stressful (Forest et al. 2004; Fowler et al. 1988). Addi-
tionally, children with ASD, unlike children with other
developmental disabilities, are typically not diagnosed
until they are about 3 years old (Heﬂin and Alaimo 2007;
Howlin and Moore 1997; Stoner et al. 2007). Though, there
could be evidence indicating that a child might have ASD
before he or she is 3 years old, there is often a ‘‘wait and
see’’ attitude on the part of parents and physicians (Young
et al. 2003; Wetherby et al. 2004). This could delay early
intervention programs for those children, resulting in loss
of critical years of intensive intervention. Effective tran-
sition planning becomes even more crucial once the diag-
nosis is conﬁrmed (Woods and Wetherby 2003).
Transition planning is a process, purposely designed and
organized to support children with developmental disabil-
ities to move from one program to another, such as from a
home-based or family-based program to an inclusive pre-
school program (Simon et al. 2009). Delays in diagnosis of
children with ASD adversely affect preparation needed for
them to transition smoothly from family-based programs to
inclusive school settings (Earles et al. 1998; Simon et al.
2009). Earles et al. (1998) concluded that problems that
accompany transitions, such as unpredictable behavior
outbursts from children with ASD and unreasonable
expectations on the part of receiving schools and teachers,
can cause anxiety and confusion among children and their
parents, teachers, and other service providers.
Transitions between early intervention and preschool ser-
vices, as well as preschool and kindergarten services, can pose
several challenges to the child, his or her parents, and the
receiving school (Colorado Department of Education, Early
Childhood Initiatives 2000). For instance, transition times for
young children from family-focused programs to child-cen-
tered programs can be emotional for all parents, and even
more so if their child has a disability. Similarly, the receiving
sitehas todevelopnew servicesand adapt tothe speciﬁc needs
of the child (Marghetts 2003; Sutherland 2008).
Young children with ASD experience two major types
of transitions; namely, vertical transitions and horizontal
transitions (Stoner et al. 2007). Vertical transitions involve
movement from one program to another, such as from a
preschool program to kindergarten. Vertical transitions are
predictable and developmental in scope. In most instances,
vertical transitions are designed to meet the needs of
children with ASD over time and require different pro-
fessionals to work collaboratively with parents to ensure
successful transitions for a child with ASD. For instance,
professionals can collaborate in planning for environmental
changes at a receiving school site that will facilitate a
smooth and successful placement of a child with ASD from
a sending school setting. Ineffective vertical transition
planning can result in negative consequences for the child’s
social and academic development in the future (Stahmer
and Ingersoll 2004).
Horizontal transitions refer to short-term movements of
students with ASD across situations and events (Stoner
et al. 2007). Horizontal transitions occur more frequently,
on a daily or weekly basis, and are speciﬁc to a student’s
needs. It is often very difﬁcult to predict problems that
would occur in horizontal transitions for children with
ASD. For example, it would be difﬁcult to predict the
behavior of a child with ASD when he or she is transi-
tioning from the playground to the classroom, or from
playing with a desired toy in the playroom to engaging in a
different activity in another part of the classroom. Schools,
therefore, spend substantial amounts of time and other
resources to transition planning activities for preschoolers
with ASD (Siklos and Kerns 2006).
In spite of efforts that schools make toward transitioning
preschoolers with ASD to school settings, parents of young
children with ASD and other developmental disabilities are
generally not very satisﬁed with special education and
related services that their children with disabilities receive
(Bitterman et al. 2008; Siklos and Kerns 2006). Etscheidt
(2003) found that, though young children with ASD
received more services than children with other disabilities,
parents of children with ASD often requested schools to
give more time and services to their children than did
parents of other children with disabilities. It is, therefore,
critical for preservice programs for teachers of children
with ASD and other developmental disabilities to include
skills needed for working with parents.
Preschoolers with ASD lack appropriate socialization
and communication skills, and they may exhibit such
behaviors throughout their lives, unless effective strategies
are used to address those needs. Strategies that are critical
in ensuring successful transition of preschoolers with ASD
to school settings should, therefore, be a legitimate concern
for teachers and parents. The purpose of this study was to
identify strategies that teachers of preschoolers with ASD
in Ghana and the USA considered to be effective in tran-
sitioning preschoolers to school settings.
The population for this study involved 306 preschool
teachers from public schools in eight counties in a
266 Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 38:265–270
Midwestern state in the USA and 82 of their counterparts
from early childhood programs in eastern and central
regions of Ghana. All the participants were female. The
minimum teaching credential of participants from the USA
was an associate degree in early childhood education, and
their Ghanaian counterparts had a minimum of diploma in
early childhood education from a teaching university in
Ghana. For the purposes of this study, only teachers who
had taught or were teaching preschoolers with ASD and
intellectual and developmental disabilities were selected to
participate. In all, 275 preschool teachers (USA = 210;
Ghana = 65) responded to a survey that was used in the
A 10-item survey was developed from major issues iden-
tiﬁed in Elements for Transition to Kindergarten (ETK)
(Forest et al. 2004). The survey items were open-ended,
and participants responded to the items based on the
importance participants attached to each issue item as they
prepared preschoolers with ASD to transition to kinder-
garten settings. The survey was piloted on preschool
teachers with similar characteristics in the two countries,
after which a ﬁnal survey was developed. The survey
covered the following themes: (1) Timing for planning and
preparation; (2) Sharing information with family; (3) Dis-
cussing placement with family; (4) Helping family ﬁnd
school and community resources; (5) Preparing the child
for changes in placement and services; (6) Preparing
receiving school and teachers; (7) Relationship between
sending and receiving schools; (8) Assistive technology;
(9) Home visit; and (10) Parent training.
Surveys were administered about the same time in the two
countries. The ﬁrst author mailed the survey packet, which
included directions for completion, a form for voluntary
participation, and a stamped self-addressed return enve-
lope, to participants in the USA. The second author gave
the survey to teachers in Ghana, who were attending an in-
service training workshop. The second author collected all
completed surveys back the next day. All the participants
in the USA completed and returned the survey within
Data analysis was completed based on the 10 themes of the
survey instrument. Data from participants in the two
countries were analyzed separately with descriptive statis-
tics, and then the results were compared. The data from
participants in Ghana were ﬁrst analyzed by the second
author and cross-checked by the ﬁrst author after 2 weeks.
Similarly, data from participants in the USA were analyzed
by the ﬁrst author, and cross-checked by the second author
after 4 weeks. Data from participants in the two countries
were then compared.
Participants from the two countries agreed that most of the
issues mentioned on the survey were important to pre-
school transitions. However, preschool teachers in Ghana
did not consider assistive technology and parent training as
important in transition activities for preschoolers with ASD
as their counterparts from the USA. Speciﬁcally, all the
participants from the USA considered assistive technology
and parent training as critical transition programs for pre-
schoolers with ASD before they enter regular kindergarten
settings. About one half (N = 32) of Ghana teachers con-
sidered parent training important and about one-third
(N = 18) considered assistive technology important.
The issues both groups of participants identiﬁed as most
important include (a) timing of planning and preparation,
(b) helping family to ﬁnd resources, (c) sharing information
with family, and (d) home visits. Summaries of the com-
ments by participants from both countries regarding (a)
timing of planning and collaboration with family, and (b)
school/community resources and information sharing are
Timing of Planning and Collaboration with Family
All the participants in the study (N = 165) indicated that
early planning and preparation and collaboration with
family are the two most critical initial steps to ensuring a
successful transition program for preschoolers with ASD to
regular kindergarten settings. Suggestions participants
provided include getting a transition team and setting goals
early, identifying challenges in the transition process from
the onset, gathering information about the child, his inter-
ests and preferences, and developing a reciprocal rela-
tionship between sending and receiving schools. Planning
must begin when there is a strong suspicion for a diagnosis
of ASD. In order to allow enough time for the child and his
or her family to adjust to the new setting, the participants
suggested that sending and receiving schools must work
closely with the child and his or her family to identify and
address problems that could hinder a smooth transition for
the preschool child with ASD to kindergarten. For exam-
ple, schools must discuss placement options and expecta-
tions for both the child and the family in the receiving
Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 38:265–270 267
Family Resource and Information Sharing
All the participants from the USA (N = 210) and all but
one of the participants from Ghana (N = 64) indicated that
schools should provide families of preschoolers with ASD
sources of family and community support during the
transition process. Consequently, early childhood service
providers should work with the child and his or her family
before the child enters preschool. Other speciﬁc sugges-
tions participants gave include (1) schools must get a
transition planning team for the child with ASD; (2)
schools and parents must collaborate to identify challenges
that the child and his or her teachers will face in kinder-
garten; and (3) schools must collect information about the
child, his or her family’s interests and preferences before
the child enters kindergarten. Table 1 is a summary of
issues that preschool teachers from the two countries
considered as important in transition programs for pre-
schoolers with ASD.
Results from this study indicate that, with the exception of
the usefulness of assistive technology and parent training,
teachers in Ghana and the USA agreed on the effectiveness
of many other strategies that ensure smooth transitions for
preschoolers with ASD to kindergarten. Reasons for dif-
ferences between the two groups regarding assistive tech-
nology and parent training could be attributed to economic
and socio-cultural differences in the two countries. For
instance, preschool teachers in a developing country, such
as Ghana, do not have access to as much assistive tech-
nology as their counterparts in the USA. Second, parents of
children with disabilities in Ghana may not participate in
their child’s school programs because of their cultural and
superstitious beliefs and practices regarding disabilities
Implications for preschool teacher preparation and
practice are many. First, early childhood special education
teacher preparation programs must address parent-profes-
sional collaboration as a critical area in their curricula. This
will help early childhood special educators to develop
skills they will need to effectively work with parents.
Second, preschool teachers should initiate transition
plans early and prepare the child and his or her family, at
least, 6 months before the child moves to kindergarten.
Without appropriate early intervention programs, social,
behavioral, and communication problems of a child with
ASD will worsen as he or she moves from preschool to
Third, preschool teachers must share information with
the child’s family in the family’s preferred language.
Families must be given information outlining the steps in
the transition process, their role, and the role of other
individuals who will be involved. Teachers should present
such information through interpreters if they cannot do so
in the language that the child’s parents can understand.
Fourth, an important step in the transition process is
discussing placement options with family members. Pre-
school teachers must assist parents to visit potential kin-
dergarten programs and explore opportunities and
experiences of the staff. They should provide parents with
information about open house days, application procedures,
registration dates, parents’ orientation, and similar events
from different kindergarten programs.
Fifth, parents would require additional support as their
child with ASD moves from preschool to kindergarten. For
instance, the child will be in a different school, travel on a
new bus with unfamiliar students, and follow new pick-up
and drop-off times. Such new experiences can be over-
whelming for the child, and can also disrupt the family’s
Table 1 Participants’ selection
of effective preschool transition
strategies by country
Issue Participants (N = 275)
USA (N = 210) Ghana (N = 65)
# % # %
Timing for planning and preparation 210 100 65 100
Sharing information with family 210 100 65 100
Discussing placement with the family 206 98 63 97
Helping family with school/community resources 210 100 64 98
Preparing the child for changes in services 208 99 64 98
Preparing receiving school and teachers 205 97 60 92
Sending and receiving schools’ relationships 205 97 61 93
Assistive technology use 210 100 18 27
Home visit 208 99 64 98
Parent training 210 100 32 49
268 Early Childhood Educ J (2010) 38:265–270
schedules. Preschool teachers can help ﬁnd community
resources that will support the family to deal with changes
such as an after-school program. Preschool teachers must
take steps to prepare the child for changes in service
delivery, including steps to help the child to become suc-
cessful in the new placement. They should encourage
parents to involve their child in family activities, even if
the child shows little interest.
Sixth, teachers in the future kindergarten program will
have to be adequately prepared for the in-coming child and
his or her parents. In addition, the sending preschool pro-
gram and the receiving kindergarten school must commu-
nicate regularly about the child’s progress when the child is
formally enrolled in the new program. Reciprocal follow-
up activities between the sending and receiving programs
are necessary, particularly, in the ﬁrst few months of kin-
Evidence exists in the literature conﬁrming the importance of
transition planning for preschoolers with ASD prior to kin-
dergarten placement. The effectiveness of preschool transi-
tions for children with ASD depends upon the strategies used,
the time planning and preparation were initiated, support that
parents receive in identifying community resources, parent
training and participation, the establishment of reciprocal
information-sharing system between sending preschool and
receiving kindergarten school, and how much kindergarten
teachers are prepared for the in-coming child.
Results of this study indicate that, despite the socio-
economic and scientiﬁc disparities that exist between the
USA and Ghana, preschool teachers in both countries share
similar experiences regarding strategies that are relevant to
transition programs for preschoolers with ASD. More
studies should be done to promote a better understanding
among teachers regarding similarities and differences that
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