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Middle School and Autism.

Middle School and Autism, a combination that can result in some unique challenges! While all young teens face challenges as life becomes a bit more complicated, this can be a particularly true for students with ASD. This section explores the social, emotional, behavioral, academic and physical demands of junior high or middle school. It provides information and guidance to help you navigate the educational and service systems with a view to meeting the unique needs of young teens on the spectrum.

Worried About Your Middle School-Age child?

Many parents are not concerned about an elementary age child who is “quirky” or “a bit of a loner.” When you understand what autism is, however, the features of autism can be clearly seen in the middle school years. When a child is around students at school who are increasingly independent and sophisticated, important differences in socialization, communication and behavior can become more noticeable. These differences can cause obvious difficulties for a young adolescent with an autism spectrum disorder. Parents, teachers or staff may become concerned. Other students may notice the differences, and unfortunately, bullying and rejection may result.

When we see the features of autism in a middle-school-aged child, we notice that the child is often not able to do the things we expect them to do. He or she may be less able to cope with the demands of middle school and have unexpected ways to respond or cope. For example, most junior-high students depend on their network of friends to get by when things are hard. Students with ASD may not have friends to provide practical or emotional support they need. Repetitive behaviors, sensory sensitivies, meltdowns and high levels of anxiety may affect students on the spectrum. Many students with ASD need considerable support to progress and learn, socially, emotionally and academically, in middle school.

One of the first things you can do to help your middle-school-age child who is diagnosed with autism is to be sure you understand the social, communication, behavior, sensory, physical and cognitive/learning differences that are part of autism. You need to know how each of these features affects your child because he or she will probably need help to develop in each of these areas. Adults need to work together and make a plan to help the child learn new skills, make progress in all areas of development, and manage new demands specific to middle school.

Not Sure if Your Middle-Schooler Has an Autism Spectrum Disorder?

If you are not clear about what Autism is, or if you are concerned about your child who does not have a diagnosis, you will want to read the section on this website called Birth to Age 3, then come back to this page. Look at the Picture Dictionary of Child Development that focuses on how young children learn to relate to others, communicate and play. After you read it, you can use the Picture Dictionary Checklist to make notes about any differences that you may see in your child, now and in the past. The checklist has room to write down your examples, questions and concerns. You can then discuss these things with a pediatrician or other professional. Birth to Age 3 section.

Special Education for Middle School-Age Children.

Many children with autism are identified by the age of 7, and begin to receive educational services through the IEP process while in elementary school. The federal educational mandate that requires all states to provide an appropriate education, at no cost parents, to eligible children with disabilities, means that a child with autism may be entitled to receive the specialized education supports and services that he needs to learn and develop. Special education supports and services can/should continue in middle school, and may need to be refined to address changing needs.

Skills to Build.

The middle school years are a time to focus on many important skills to help the student be successful and independent in the present and the future. Based on the needs of an individual needs and concerns, parents will want to speak up and help the educational team focus on the development of:

Effective communication with adults and other children, including the use speech or augmentative communication device if needed. Communication includes reciprocity (give-and-take), initiating, responding and relating.

Social skills for friendship and learning such as responding to other children, understanding social expectations, and game skills.

Self care skills such as managing belongings and personal hygiene.

Study skills such as paying attention, shifting attention, handling school materials, following directions, and completing routine and tasks.

Academic skills in all content areas, including comprehension of written material and producing written work.

Self awareness skills such as knowing how to seek appropriate sensory input, taking for a break when needed, and understanding how he or she is affected by their autism.

Safety skills such as traffic awareness, informing others of intent to leave the area, seeking adult support to leave a building or area, waiting where told to wait, coming when called, stopping when being asked to stop.

“Fitting in” skills such as moving around the building quietly, following directions given to the whole group, waiting in line for a turn, and understanding schedules and schedule changes.

More Information.

More information will be added to this page to help you navigate the middle school years, understand the IEP process, legal rights, service options, and the role of the regional center. We will also talk about getting ready for high school! Come back and visit again!

Resources.