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Entering middle school can be overwhelming for any child, but add your child’s special challenges and this transition can be quite intimidating. If your child is entering middle school this fall, you probably already had an IEP team meeting discussing transitional support. Meanwhile, what can you do to help your child best succeed as he/she starts this journey? As with any child, you won’t be able to put aside all of your child’s fears, but you can make a great strides with some easy steps.

What are some differences that should be considered with middle school?

  • Middle schools require many class changes. Each one of these changes may require a transition unless your child is in a Special Day Class which might make transitions less frequent.
  • New classes, teachers, campus, bus route and classmates.
  • During class changes, bells ring and many students “herd” to the next period in a short amount of time which may lead to sensory overload.
  • Typically, there are no playgrounds or recess.
  • The campus might not be physically “closed” which could be a danger for elopers.
  • Having many classes may result in many homework assignments which require better organizational skills.
  • PE classes may require your child open a lock/locker and change clothes in public.

5 Steps Parents Can Take to Help Your Child Transition Better

  1. Map it Out – Before school starts, create a map including important areas of the campus (class schedule, bathrooms, lunch tables and office). Discuss with the teacher a potential “home base” for if your child gets lost or overwhelmed and needs help. Have your child practice walking through his schedule several times. If you want to make it fun, create a scavenger hunt to find certain areas on campus.
  2. Introduce – Let your child meet the teacher, counselor and aide (if possible); so that he will have a comfort level with that person on the first day of school. Perhaps you could have a “getting to know” him handout available for these people which lists your child’s likes, dislikes, sensory challenges, strategies that work and potential rewards. It might include a picture of your child and a family photo (which might serve as a conversation piece) as well as emergency contact information in case problems arise. Having a communication log that goes from home to school daily might also help.
  3. Social Story or Picture Book – Depending on your child’s needs, you may want to create a social story or picture book as a visual to help your child mentally prepare. You may also want to end the book with a reward if the child gets a good report during the first week of classes.
  4. Get Organized – One of the most challenging things for middle school students is staying organized and keeping up with the many class assignments. Connect with other parents or the teacher to find out what the best strategy (in terms of binders or planners) would be for your child. The school might even offer a planner during registration. If so, purchase one and then you can fine-tune it to your child’s needs.
  5. Back-to-School Shopping – Some children don’t like to shop, but at a minimum, I suggest you have your child help pick out his backpack. I highly recommend giving him three options (all age appropriate) and let him pick. It’s hard enough to “fit into” middle school, but having an age-appropriate backpack is a great start. If you are unsure, you can’t go wrong with any [easyazon-link asin=”B0007QCSKM” locale=”us”]JanSport backpack[/easyazon-link]. They are very durable and reasonably priced. If your child isn’t into shopping at stores, go online and find one. In addition, if you can find teen-friendly clothing that your child finds comfortable, this will also help him “fit in” with the style of the other students. It doesn’t mean your child should have no personal identity in his clothes, but wearing a “Dora the Explorer” shirt to middle school might send the wrong signal about your child who is now growing into the teen years. Since they might not pick up on social cues, it is helpful if you or a typical sibling can guide them in this area.

While some children will be spending much of their day in a Special Day Class transitioning in and out for various subjects, some students might be at a level where (with appropriate guidance) they are going from period to period with the typical population. Regardless, taking a few precautionary steps prior to school starting can be a huge help in easing your child’s potential anxiety as well as yours.