Introduction to Educating Middle School Students with Asperger Profiles
The transition to middle school can be bumpy even for typically developing students, due to the size of the building and to increasingly complex academic expectations and social pressures (often including pressure to conform). Students usually have multiple teachers to deal with, each with his or her own personality and way of running a class. These changes are likely to pose even greater challenges for a student with an Asperger profile. Therefore, parents and teachers need to offer extra support to prepare for the transition and help these students adapt to the middle school environment.
Social Challenges and Bullying Prevention
We need to keep in mind that although students with Asperger profiles may be bright and articulate, they still have a social and emotional developmental delay. They may also continue to lag behind other students in executive functioning, problem-solving, abstract thinking, reading comprehension, fine motor skills, following a list of oral directions, and completing multi-step projects. Even if things have gone well in elementary school, a middle school student with an Asperger profile may continue to need certain supports or interventions.
With the onset of puberty, the social environment of middle school is very different from that of elementary school. Neurotypical students may be immersed in team sports or popular culture, or getting ready for school dances. Meanwhile, students with Asperger profiles may still be interested in games that they played in elementary school, unaware that other students consider these interests immature. At the same time, their social awkwardness may also make them stand out as different—putting them as risk of becoming targets for exclusion, teasing, or bullying.
Many parents and students feel anxious about the transition to middle school because they don’t know what to expect. But you don’t need to panic-AANE is here to help! Even though there are many changes, some students transition well and like their new schools. For example, some students prefer the middle school landscape for the opportunity to move from class to class. Some students prefer multiple teachers, especially when they have had one teacher who was not a good fit. Middle school also allows students with Asperger profiles to connect with other students with similar interests through clubs and teams. Many students have made new friends while bonding over Anime or chess club.
Strategies That Help With Transition to Middle School
As you prepare for the transition to middle school, consider these strategies that other students, parents, and teachers have found helpful.
- Have the student meet their go-to person at the middle school before the start of school. They can tour the school and find all their classes before all students return.
- Have plans in place for the less structured times of day, like lunch. Is there a small group to attend if the cafeteria is too loud or your child can’t find any friends to sit with?
- Agree to try one school activity each year so that your child can be involved in the life of the school. If additional support is needed for your child to participate in a school club or team, talk with your team about how to facilitate your child’s inclusion.
- Novelty is usually challenging for students with Asperger profiles, so they may be anxious the first few weeks of school and at other times of transition. Put supports and structures in place at the start of the year and then pull them back if they aren’t needed instead of waiting to see if he fails.
- Make sure each teacher has seen your child’s IEP or 504 plan and is aware of accommodations and goals.
Strategies That Help During the School Year
- Provide structure and regular check-ins.
- Provide time for direct instruction in organizational strategies.
- Give both oral and visual directions for assignments/tasks.
- For long-term assignments, provide a check list for periodic updates. Have your student check in with the teachers to make sure they are on track for finishing the assignment on time.
- Keep lines of communication open between parents and educators. Don’t assume the student will share much information between home and school; among other things, ASD affects social communication. Educators, let parents know right away about missing assignments, falling grades, incidents that have upset the student at school. Parents, let school personnel know about any medication changes or other factors that will affect the student’s mood and ability to function during the school day.
- Teach study skills and have students rate what works for them.
Especially For Parents
- Discuss rules for social media and screen use. Balance your child’s needs for down time and online connection with safety and other responsibilities.
- If your child knows about his or her diagnosis, talk with your child about disclosing to classmates and peers.
- Consider having an older family friend who has attended the middle school explain the “hidden curriculum” or the unwritten rules of the new social environment. They know important information that parents and teachers miss.
Transition to High School
Middle school and high school education should prepare students not just to graduate, but for a successful transition to post-secondary education, employment, and independent adult living. In the final year of middle school the educational team should start the formal transition planning process. For many students with Asperger profiles, it’s advisable to incorporate transition goals and services for the IEP even earlier—for example, goals involving self-awareness and self-advocacy, social skills, and executive functioning—because students with Asperger profiles need to be taught these skills slowly, in multiple settings, and over many years.
If parents, educators, and other students can be understanding and patient, and provide the necessary supports, these are children who have the potential to learn, go on to college or other post-secondary education or training, and find employment suited to their abilities. And remember you are not alone. If you need help figuring out the middle school years at home or school, consider parent coaching or give us a call.