Making the Transition into Middle School
Making the transition from elementary to middle school is a huge milestone for all children and their parents. For our children on the autism spectrum and others who struggle with issues of “perception” this dramatic change of life is even more traumatic than for their NT (neuro-typical) peers. This transition can be viewed as a time in life that often resembled the twists and turns of walking a labyrinth. For those people who may not have the actual experience of walking through a labyrinth, let me tell you there are many unforeseen directions we can take as we go day to day. We cannot always predict how these twists and turns will manifest in real life. We cannot fully anticipate what will happen until we are actually there, the life challenges and how to navigate the actual situation, especially when those we love the most are dependent on our ability to help them, but, we must.
Parents and students will find the expectations of middle school teachers to be very different and considerably more intense than that of their elementary school counter parts. In our experience with helping children and parents make the transition to the secondary school way of life many factors play a vital role in student success and happiness as the intensity and impact of transitioning factors is different for each of our children and how the families are prepared to handle them.
The primary goal of the middle school teacher is to help all of their students become ready to be successful in high school and beyond. Middle school teachers expect all students to be functioning at a higher level of independence than they did in primary (elementary) school. We have found that the teachers who tend to be most successful with helping our children transition to middle school are very aware that virtually all new 6th graders are still operating on a 5th grade or lower level emotionally and perhaps academically. Our children tend to have a greater variation of socially and emotional maturity, while many excel academically. Many students need direct instruction on how to function in a middle school campus.
Primary issues to be considered include; organization, self-advocacy, emotional regulation, socialization and following new routines. Just making the transition to more classes and being with many more students and teachers will take a considerable amount of planning, dedication and effort by everyone involved, i.e., parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, specialists, and of course the children themselves. Later, in high school the teachers are content driven, they are focused on delivering content knowledge on particular subjects to help the students obtain mastery and students will have to adjust to many of the same transitioning issues as when they start middle school.
Many of our children are “visual learners” and benefit by being shown and permitted to have practice with what organization looks like in a specific setting/classroom. They need to be shown how to keep and utilize their materials, including their personal office (their backpack). Their backpacks are often referred to as “the black hole” because many times, school work and other materials that go into the backpack mysteriously disappear, often because the difficulties they experience with executive functioning (planning, organizing and follow-through). Our children need to learn how to navigate from one class to another, how to navigate the lunch room, how to enter and exit the school campus, how to find and use the busses or parent pick-up line for those children not taking busses, what to do before school starts and immediately after school ends, and how to be successful in P.E.. They need “real life” experiences to see how to be successful. They must utilize many social and academic skills, that need to be taught directly, regarding interacting with peers, teachers and others. Additional skills, such as, knowing what a completed homework assignment should look like, what successful note taking and class work looks like, how to study for and complete tests successfully and how to avoid being targets for bullies.
You don’t have to go it alone. At the Support for Students Growth Center in Boca Raton, Dr. Eric Nach and his associates provide social, academic, behavioral and developmental services for individuals ages 4 into adulthood, in-home or in our Boca Raton center.