Bag of Tricks: Supporting Your Asperger's Child Through the Middle School Transition - FamilyEducation

Bag of Tricks: Supporting Your Asperger's Child Through the Middle School Transition

August 15,2011

There are, as L. glumly pointed out last night, eleven days left until school starts. I didn't think he was counting, or was aware of how many days were left, but clearly he's given this some thought. My heart went out to him at once. We know he's been worried, because he's kicked obsessing about his current interest (a computer game) into high gear--it's all he thinks about and talks about and we know this is so he can blot out all the other worries. I sympathize and empathize with him, except I tend to do the opposite: I place my worries front and center and gnaw at them until they go away. 

As we draw closer to The Day--that first day of middle school, we've been strategically taking steps to make sure the transition is as smooth as it can be for a kid like L.--and for his parents, too. Here are some of the "action items" on our preparation plan as we help our anxious child with Asperger's cope with the transition to middle school:

Practice "dry runs" of school pick-ups and drop-offs. We did this for the first time this past weekend. We loaded up the kids and drove the route from home to L.'s new school, through the carpool drop-off line, and then off to T.'s school. I'm not sure the dry run helped L. any, but it helped me.

Don't forget to draft that teacher letter! I almost forgot about this--it's been such a staple of L.'s elementary school years, but Scott reminded me the other night that we need to get one written and printed out for his new middle school teachers. In this letter, be sure to not only continue to include your child's strengths and challenges, but also tips on how your child learns best.

Be sure to find out from teachers ASAP how they prefer to communicate concerns and questions. This is a great way to show your child's teachers that you are an involved parent and that they should feel free to communicate any concerns they might have. Some teachers prefer e-mail, but others are comfortable with phone calls or quick face-to-face conversations.

Role play as many social situations as you can--or as many as your child will let you. Unfortunately, there are countless "hidden rules" that make up the social environment of middle school, and these can be difficult enough for the neurotypical child to understand and identify, and impossible and damaging for the child on the spectrum. Use clear and specific language when helping your child through role play activities--blunt is sometimes best, even if being blunt is sometimes difficult to do (and it is often for me).

Take your child shopping. If your child--like mine--has a closet filled with elastic-waisted pants and shorts then it's time to switch those out, if possible. MIddle school kids are at the age where fashion is important, whether we parents think it should be or not, and our kids will stand out less in clothes that stand out less. We've been working on this transition for some months now, and our fingers are crossed that L. will actually wear all the new clothes he picked out.

Practice with the locker combination lock. This is critical I think, even for kids who have used locker locks before. We keep L.'s lock on the handle to the living room door and he opens the combination every time he goes through the room. 

If your child's schedule won't be available until the first day of school, place a call to the school counselor ASAP and request an early copy. We're in the process of doing this now. A letter was mailed out from L.'s school last week letting us know that the schedule wouldn't be available until that first day. This is too late for L., who really needs to prepare himself and learn the schedule ahead of time, and it's critical we get our hands on a copy of his schedule as soon as possible.

If you work, set aside time in your own schedule for emergency meetings, school visits, and phone calls. The transition period can be rough on everyone, and expect to be needed by your child and the school at the beginning of it all. I've already planned for that and set my own office hour schedule so that I have one or two mornings with "late" office start times in case I need to stop by L.'s school.

Work out systems for homework, goals and rewards, and schedules as far ahead of time as you can. We've found that we have more success with these things when we tweak or add to already existing goals and reward systems.

Plan for the worst on the inside, and the best on the outside. Don't let your child know you are worried and anxious about the middle school transition, but I find it does help to "over plan" for a rough transition and be pleasantly surprised. Be confident and positive with your child about the transition, and be careful when probing about their concerns. Try and be as concrete as you can when discussing any concerns your child might have about the transition--I know L. has a hard time with abstract approaches to discussing worries, and responds better to specifics (like, "are you worried the cafeteria might smell?")