Monday, September 5, 2011

Teenagers With Autism Transitioning to High School

Thoughts of Springtime bring different images to mind, rain showers replacing snow, flowers, new growth on trees, baby animals, etc. If you are a parent with a child living on the Autism Spectrum Springtime also brings up other images. The school year is ending, if it has been a "good" year, you might be sad to see the year end. If it has been a "bad" year, you are happy to have survived. But whether or not the school year has been "good" or "bad" one thing is certain, change will quickly be upon you and your family. The end of this school year means that in a few short months the next school year will begin. How do you prepare your teenager for that? Helping your teen prepare for a new teacher and a new grade can be challenging, but some transitions are more complicated than others. The years that require moving to new schools seem to be the most overwhelming. Thoughts of moving from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school and high school to college brings terror to many parents. And those of us who have been through it know what it does to our kids.

We haven't done the high school to college transition yet, but I remember clearly the transition from middle school to high school. It was "relatively" smooth. Planning started early in 8th grade. We were fortunate in that the high school was right next door to the middle school so for the last semester of 8th grade my teen was able to "work" in the high school library as an aide during his free period. This allowed him to become familiar with the school, the people and routine. It also got him use to going into the building. Having more say in the classes he took in high school was another positive thing for him. He carefully studied the list of offerings and made his selections (he actually figured out his plan for all four years, before his first day of 9th grade). There were some glitches. Some adjustments had to be made after school started. But it was clearly a much smoother start then middle school. Things that stand out that really help:

He had a case manager that he met at the end of 8th grade. His case manager talked to him about his goals and the courses he would need to meet these goals.

He was familiar with the layout of the school. He had one place, the library, where he felt really comfortable.

Before school started we took his schedule and walked around the building, located all his classes, found his locker, and worked the combination.

We arrived at school early each day so he could avoid the mass confusion at the lockers right before the bell rang.

Once school started his case manager checked in with him frequently to make sure things were going well. This was his go to person for questions/problems. This was not a long and involved meeting, usually they spoke briefly in the halls between classes.

The locker area was crowded, my son's assigned locker was in the middle of a row and thus he did not use his locker at school. But he was allowed to have two sets of books, one set at home, and the others kept in various classrooms, thus sparing him the necessity of going to his locker between classes.

Lunch was another issue with crowds and noise. Finding a relatively quiet place to eat was a priority, but not an impossible task. Lunch time clubs have allowed for peer interaction but in a less crowded forum.

No two teenagers are alike, and what works well for one might not work for another, but we have found that by collecting ideas that have worked for others, we come up with ideas we have not thought of and some of these ideas turn out to be very successful. These are some of the things that worked well for us and we hope we have given you an idea or two that you had not thought of before.

Julie Kirkpatrick, RN, BSN, MSN,
Estes Park Consultants, LLC, PC,
Estes Park, CO 80517

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