Living With Autism: Going to Middle School

By — Autism Society
Updated on Jan 25, 2012

Starting middle school is stressful for any student, but the process can be even more challenging for a student on the autism spectrum (ASD) and for his or her parents.

Many things will be different. The school will probably be larger, the campus more confusing and the enrollment may be several times greater than in elementary school. The student likely will not know his or her new teachers and, in turn, the teachers might not know  anything about the student. The aide, if one is needed and provided, may be a stranger. Many of the students will not know their classmate with ASD.   in any given class, the student may find no familiar faces. the student might change classes not only every period, but sometimes may have certain classes for only a semester, a quarter or on alternate days. there will be greater demands for independence in terms of work habits. the homework assignments will be more complex and involve more hours of work. there will be different and more complex social demands within the cultural setting of the school and during extracurricular activities.

But, there also are new opportunities that were not available in elementary school. careful planning can make the transition  to middle school a success. planning for the transition process ideally will begin several months before the actual  transition occurs. Following is an outline for a process that others have used in developing a successful transition plan. of course, additional steps may be needed in individual cases. 

Step I. Preparation during the last year in elementary school 

It’s a good idea for the elementary school team to visit the middle school to:

  • meet teachers and administrators in the middle school
  • learn about important differences between elementary and middle school, and about new expectations
  • obtain some of the middle school textbooks or course outlines to help determine placement when levels of classes are offered
  • obtain information about school policy, traditions and so forth 
  • obtain information for parents about the new school,  including its faculty, opportunities, challenges, rules and traditions
  • develop a list of important skills that the student might need in the new school environment 

Step II. Planning the curriculum, goals and schedule for the fall transition to middle school

The elementary school team can:

  • gather information, prior to the individual educational program (IEP) meeting, about the student’s  strengths, challenges, interests, and need for technology, support and accommodations/modifications
  • discuss a potential schedule with the parents and the receiving middle school team regarding the  student’s need for balance in his schedule, breaks and opportunity for resource support. Sensory challenges also must be considered as the schedule is designed
  • develop a list of helpful strategies, a student portfolio or a video that shows the student’s personality and strengths 
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