Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Autism, Aspergers and Mainstreaming in Middle School: Let's Ease the Transition!

Most parents and students have anxiety at the start of school.  For those families with an individual with autism, the stress can be compounded.  We can't eliminate nor predict every area of difficulty but at least plan for as much as possible.  Middle school is a time of change.  Organizational skills are put to the test, hormones are raging and socialization reaches a new level of complexity.  How can we prepare?

Become Familiar with the School - Visit the school ahead of time.  Walk the halls, determine where classes are and try to meet with teachers on a one-on-one basis.  This is often a new environment but also different due to the fact that this is many times the first time the individual has had to change classes.  Gaining the schedule ahead of time with the classroom numbers/locations can help in practicing how to navigate the hallways. 

Use a Map - Put a map of the school in the front of the individual's notebook.  Highlight classrooms and put time period to go to that room.  Also show where the locker, cafeteria, library and other important places are.

The Locker - The dreaded locker can be a challenge in itself.  Try to get a heads up where the locker will be located and the combination.  Practice ahead of time how to open; this can be very stressful.  When writing out reminders of the combination, be very specific. 
  • Turn the locker dial to the right two times to reset
  • Turn the dial to the right and stop on '0'
  • Turn to the right and stop on number '25'
  • Turn to the left and stop on '10'
  • Turn to right and stop on '22'
  • Pull down to open
Schedule Locker Breaks - Often on a student's schedule I put the specific times they need to go to the locker.  This eliminates making judgements about when there will be enough time.  Also, putting what specific books to get and put back. 
  • Arrive at school
  • Locker - Keep English and Math books; put other books in locker
  • English Class - room 205
  • Math Class - room 400
  • Locker - Put English and Math books away; Get History book and lunch
  • Lunch
  • History - room 300
  • Study Hall - in Library
  • Locker - Get books for homework classes
  • Go to bus

Extra Books - Consider getting an extra set of books for your child/student.  Many schools will provide two sets; one to keep in each class and one for home.  This avoids the locker chaos that can be anxiety provoking due to time but also social demands.

Designate a Safe Place - Students on the spectrum often need a 'base'.  This can be a guidance counselor's office, homeroom teacher, resource teacher, coach, etc.  This can help them know where to go during times of stress or where to get more clarification for their day.  Middle School and High School are when this becomes very important since they are changing classes and teachers frequently. 

Organize Materials - It is very difficult for students with to keep papers, assignments, notebooks, etc organized.  Setting up a system for them, helps to know where things go.  Try to put most materials in one large notebook. 
  Notebook should include:

1.      Daily schedule
2.      Homework assignment sheet
3.      Sections for each class period
a.       Materials needed for that class
b.      Place for “finished” work
c.       Rules for social behavior for that class
d.      Academic tips or strategies needed for that class
4.      Rules for school behavior in various situations
5.      Extra paper and pencils/pens for written communication in time of stress
6.      Needed school information
a.       Calendar
b.      Locker combinations
c.       Lunch number
d.      List of items that should always go home with student

Communication - There is always room for improvement when it comes to sharing information between parents, teachers and others.  Knowing what is going on a daily basis at home and at school is important.  In our earlier post we talked about ways to make it easier to keep a daily communication log.
Additional Preparation - Reading from those on the spectrum can help those on and off the spectrum become more understanding.  There are lots of great resources including books specifically for middle school girls and teenage boys on the spectrum.
This is a tough milestone for parents and students on the spectrum.  Preparation can help so much in starting the year out right and decreasing anxiety for all involved. 


  1. I've found that using an expandable file folder works much better for my son than a traditional three ring binder. All the paper's corners are covered, so less likely to get little tears or wrinkles that seem to encourage him to fiddle with them and eventually rip the paper even more. Also, you can easily label each file, and the pocket in the back can hold markers for sorting each page put in. We use different colors to designate different purposes (i.e. purple for turn in to the teacher, orange for give to mom and dad, blue for take to the office). You just put a dot at the top corner which is easily seen from the top. It really helped my son get things where they needed to go.

  2. Great tips! Thanks so much for the info!!