The transition to middle school can be filled with uncertainty, anxiety and apprehension, especially for those with Autism and their parents. While change is scary, it is also necessary for growth, progress and opportunity. The good news is that with proper planning there are several things you can do to ease your child’s stress (not to mention your own), help your child look forward to middle school and have a smooth transition.
Empower your child
The more information you can give your child the more in control she will feel. Social stories can help kids with autism face some of the uncertainty they are worried about. In a social story, your child is the main character and you have them describe what the character will do and how they feel. Having friends, family members and other role models discuss the fun and excitement that comes along with middle school is also helpful. In addition, be sure to remind your child that she is not alone, in fact all of the 6th graders are transitioning to middle school together.
Instead of dwelling on the negative, focus on the positive. You don’t have to be over the top with your optimism, but you should point out the good things that will happen in middle school. Talk about all the clubs and organizations that he can join, as well as the independence that is earned as he gets older. Let your child know that you are proud of him and point out ways that middle school will help him grow. Remind your child that he will make new friends, but acknowledge that it is alright to miss his friends from his old school. If possible, you might try to set up some playdates with some familiar friends.
Plan a visit
Uncertainty amplifies fear, so take the mystery out of it. If possible, arrange for a tour or access to explore the halls of the middle school so your child can see where the classrooms, lockers and cafeteria are. Ideally you could even arrange to have your child sit in on a class so she can meet her teacher and some of the students she will be going to school with.
Even if you’re not allowed in the school before the first day, you may still be able to find pictures or videos to help your child get familiar. Walking around the school grounds and showing her what the bus route will be are a few other ways you can help her understand what middle school will be like.
Prepare your teachers
Help teachers speed up the getting-to-know-you process by creating a document outlining your child’s strengths and weaknesses. It is important to make this document easy to read, perhaps with a summary of key points at the top. If your child’s teachers are available, meet with them as early as possible and use this document to guide the conversation as you discuss his needs.
Get familiar with the schedule
Find out as much as you can about your child’s schedule and use it to break up the day into easy to deal with pieces. Talk about when she’ll move from class to class, what will happen between classes, what unexpected situations may be encountered and when they are likely to happen. Look at a school map and determine the best routes to get to various points on campus. You should discuss the schedule periodically and decide if any preparation is necessary, but don’t let it become overwhelming.