Even though the Navigator is half-way through fourth grade, I have started thinking about middle school. I know it seems early, but the Navigator is eligible to attend middle school starting in sixth grade instead of seventh, so we’re actually only talking 18 months out from now.
To prepare my kid on the Autism spectrum, I need that 18 months.
We decided to send him to middle school in sixth grade because even though it would mean leaving the school and kids he knows, it would give him a year before the bulk of the rest of the kids entered middle school.
He would already be familiar with the routine, process, and environment before he had to contend with the influx of a lot of kids he doesn’t know.
I have already started working with his teacher, special education teacher, and his IEP case manager, mostly just talking about what kinds of things he can expect from middle school, learning from their experience and expertise, and developing strategies and tools to use down the road.
We will also be touring the school in the next month so the Navigator has a visual feel for what the environment will be like.
It was a really nice surprise to recently run across two items on Pinterest that were geared towards middle school and transitioning.
Some of the recommendations are things we are already working on such as
- body changes
- using technology safely
One of the recommendations that I most liked was that home should be a haven from the stimulus and sometimes chaotic environment. I agree with that wholeheartedly.
We are several years away from high school, but the suggestions are fully applicable to transitioning from elementary school to middle school:
- Have a positive attitude!
- Talk to your child, asking what his concerns or fears are.
- Find a buddy for your child.
- Attend school transition events.
- Do a walk through.
- Encourage your soon-to-be high school students to get involved in activities before the academic year begins.
- Give your child more independence.
All of these can be tailored for a child entering middle school from elementary school. They can all also be tailored for a child on the Autism spectrum.
For example, asking him what his concerns and fears are will be invaluable in helping him voice and deal with things that make him anxious.
Knowing which kids that he already is already friends with who will also be going to the same school will be enormously helpful.
The suggestion to give him more independence is excellent. The more he can see that there is demonstrated privileges that come with the greater responsibilities of middle school, the easier the change may be.
Update 02/16/2015 – After this article was published, I received some great suggestions from Tamara Perry on Pinterest:
One of the students l worked with had difficulty with [using a combination lock]. He carried all his texts to all his classes and to and from home because he wasn’t confident in his skill level in opening his combination lock. He did this for 2 or 3 weeks. Good to start thinking about it – maybe have a set-up at home where he keeps special things he needs to access regularly.
We had practiced with our student at school in the few weeks after their special orientation in the spring, but for whatever reason, the learning didn’t transfer to the beginning weeks of school. I think that sometimes in such a new environment, there are SO many new things to think about that some learning just doesn’t have room to be in the forefront.
When practicing with your son, after he’s accustomed and can easily open the combo lock, then start introducing various interferences- noise (music, loud TV, something similar to the bells ringing between classes) other people, narrow space, time constraints, hands full of things, etc. Just things you can think of that he’ll encounter at school.
Another thing would be to practice opening the lock while someone is conversing, saying something like “hold on a sec while l open my lock(er).‘‘
What interesting things have you found recently?
Originally published on Autism Mom February 2015.