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Asperger Syndrome Education - Middle School

Middle Schools and Families:
Tips for Supporting Your Asperger's Students

Middle School can be difficult for many of our typically developing students, so just imagine the difficulty for our children with Asperger’s. There are many changes taking place during this developmental stage – the beginning of puberty, greater organizational challenges, often a larger school, and more teachers/staff to deal with, as well as the level of conformity that many Middle School students strive for. Even if things have gone well in Elementary School there may be some hurdles in transitioning to Middle School that need to be addressed. Many strategies that are used to support students with Asperger’s work well in supporting many other students, so they can be incorporated into best teaching practices.

We need to keep in mind that Middle School children with Asperger’s may be bright, articulate and knowledgeable, but have a social deficit. What this means is that they may have difficulty multi-tasking, following a list of oral directions, interpreting others' intentions and appearing “rude” when they are just being honest. Many students with Asperger’s may not make eye contact, but don’t assume they are not listening. Making eye contact may be difficult for many students with Asperger’s, so find out if they are paying attention by asking them. Some of our Asperger’s students are great readers but don’t always comprehend what they’ve read; don’t assume they have all the information they need from reading.

Understand the social environment of Middle School is very different from that of Elementary School. Girls start getting interested in boys and vice versa. Many boys start developing a deeper interest in sports and athletics. Asperger’s students often are younger emotionally and developmentally than their typical peers, so their interests can seem immature. Adding to this mix is the lack of understanding that their interests are not shared by their peers and may be a source of teasing. Many children with Asperger’s may still be playing with Legos in Middle School while their peers are getting ready for school dances!

Which leads into another important topic – bullying! According to Nick Dubin, author of Asperger Syndrome and Bullying, the majority of individuals with Asperger’s experience bullying or victimization at school. There are many reasons for this but mainly it is because children with Asperger’s appear different – whether it’s in their interests or the way they’re dressed – they stand out from the typically developing students. Most children who bully are socially savvy and are able to be under the radar of most adults. Asperger’s students have a low social IQ so they either do not notice the bullying or retaliate in an extreme manner. It is the responsibility of adults to address this issue. You can find many resources on this issue start by checking out our website www.aane.org.

Many Asperger’s students may run out of mental and/or physical energy by the end of the school day, so understand they may not be as alert in the afternoon as in the morning. Asperger’s students want to be successful in school, like their typical peers, they just aren’t always sure how to navigate the academic or social challenges. They may be very intelligent but don’t often know what they are doing wrong. These are students whose self-esteem is not very high. It is our responsibility as adults to help keep their self-esteem up. Make sure they get praised for the things they do right as we know they are being ridiculed for what they do wrong. Asperger’s students very often get teased by their peers when adults aren’t around and even the adults in their lives get annoyed with them.

Here then are some helpful strategies:

  • Let the school know that the Asperger’s students need more structure and supervision than other Middle School students of the same age.
  • Ask teachers to give directions make sure they get them both verbally and visually. This will help to alleviate much confusion.
  • Make sure the Middle School teachers help the Asperger’s students understand assignments, not just a quick yes but have them give a short explanation.
  • For long term assignments, having teachers use a check list for weekly updates is extremely important. Have your Asperger’s student check in with the teachers to make sure they are on track for finishing the assignment on time.
  • See if the school can try to schedule academic classes in the morning and the technical or electives in the afternoon.
  • Keep lines of communication open between school and family! Schools should let parents know of falling grades sooner rather than later. Parents should keep in touch with school personnel about any medication changes etc.
  • Having teachers create a weekly or monthly syllabus of what topics will be studied will help to ease anxiety.
  • Transitions are challenging for our Asperger’s students so they may be anxious the first few weeks of school. Understand they may need a little more time for adjusting to the routine of Middle School.
  • Make sure your Asperger’s children dress as fashionably as possible. This may take some time but this is the age when wearing sweatpants or elastic waist pants are no longer in style. Spend time trying on clothes and when you find something that fits buy more than one.
  • Teaching about the rules of internet communication is of utmost importance at this age. Many students begin using text messaging, e-mail, and chat rooms. Be sure to explain all the rules clearly and what your expectations are for internet use. Children with Asperger’s can be naïve and vulnerable so be sure to explain all the aspects of computer usage.
  • Be careful of disclosure. Many children in Elementary School are comfortable with an Asperger’s label but this may change in Middle School. Be sure to find out the social acceptance of the school environment before disclosing.
  • Finally there needs to be explicit teaching of the “hidden curriculum” or the unwritten rules of the social environment. This is extremely important at this age because it is so different from Elementary School. This needs to be done using clear language with time to practice in a natural environment.

If we can all just have a little understanding, patience and provide the necessary supports these are children who can succeed in school, go on to college, and have a career suited to their abilities.