Middle school can be a scary place for any child. The school is probably larger than their elementary school. There will be more students crowding the hallways. Classes may be spread out around the school and teachers expect more organization and more responsibility than teachers in younger grades. On top of that, familiar faces will disappear. As your child moved from grade to grade in elementary schools, even if they didn't know a particular teacher, they probably had seen them from time to time. Now, teachers are strangers and if your child has a classroom aide, he will need to get to know a new one. All of this causes stress in any child, for a child with autism, the stress is even greater.
Both parents and teachers can help a child with autism to make this transition easier. The following are tips and suggestions other parents have found helpful:
- Make arrangements to visit the middle school. Your child's elementary school may have a trip scheduled to introduce all students to their new school, with guided tours of classrooms, the gym, the lunch room and to meet some of the teachers. You may want to plan a trip for yourself, to get to know the administrators, the guidance counselors and the teachers before your child's first day of school. You can also ask if you can bring your child for an hour or in the weeks leading up to the school year. Having time to tour the school on your own gives your child the opportunity to take their time and ask questions as well as briefly talk with the teachers before the first day of school.
- Find out about daily structure. In elementary school, if there are different teachers for different subjects, these teachers will often come to the students rather than the students moving from one classroom to the next. Depending on your school district, this may continue in middle school or the students may be required to bring their books and supplies to several different classrooms throughout the day. In addition, some middle schools still have the entire class move from classroom to classroom while in others each class is made up of different students. Knowing exactly what to expect helps you explain to your child the structure of the school day.
- Ask for a copy of the student handbook ahead of time. Knowing the school structure, policies and requirements is important to a child with autism. In addition, the handbook might contain information on the history of the school, the school song, the dress code and a map of the school. A previous yearbook can also help a child feel more comfortable with the new environment. The more information you provide your child, the better prepared he will be.
- Attend any orientation sessions. Some school districts offer an informational program for parents to help familiarize them with school policies, extracurricular activities and academic offerings. If your school has such a program, make plans to attend.
- Discuss changes with your child's IEP or Section 504 educational team. There are probably changes and modifications needed to special services based on your child's needs. As he enters middle school, your child may need breaks during the day, time spent in the resource room or other ways to manage sensory overload.
- Set up a way to communicate with your child's teachers on a regular basis. What type of communication works best for you? Do you prefer speaking with the teacher on a weekly basis? Would you prefer to communicate via email? Communication methods can be listed on your child's IEP or Section 504 or you can informally set up a communication schedule with each teacher. Let teacher's know what type of information you are requesting, for example, upcoming tests, homework assignments, long-term projects, student activities.
- Check into parent groups. Many schools have booster clubs for students in certain activities, such as sports teams or band. Your child may do better in an activity where you are involved. Check with the guidance counselor to find out if there are any parent support groups in your area.
- Practice social skills that are needed as your student enters a new environment. Role play meeting someone new, entering conversations, answering questions, asking for help or directions. The more you practice, the more comfortable your child will feel.
- Ask about organizational requirements and request modifications if needed. For example, is your child expected to have a separate notebook for each class and would it be easier for your child to have one five-subject notebook? Would your child benefit from using a tape recorder or laptop?
As your child begins middle school, his needs and requirements will change. Keep a notebook to help you remember your child's needs and request a meeting with his educational team to make changes on the IEP or Section 504.
"Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), 2011, Staff Writer, Massachusetts General Hospital
"Living With Autism: Going to Middle School," Date Unknown, Beverly Vicker, Autism Society
"Strategies for Surviving Middle School with an Included Child with Autism," 2005, Ann Palmer, PathFindersForAutism.org
Published On: June 26, 2011