Middle school is generally a time of social growth and peer interaction, with the beginnings of school dances and dating, but it can be a very troublesome period for even the most well adjusted student. Children who have Asperger's syndrome (AS) may experience more difficulties than typical kids when transitioning to middle school. Since teenagers with AS have social skill deficits, they may fall short of this developmental milestone in their lives. This can leave the teen with Aspergers feeling isolated and alone. Parents and teachers can make special accommodations and offer support to help the teen wish AS transition to middle school as smoothly as possible.
Aspergers and Middle School
The adolescent years can be difficult for children with Aspergers, and middle school can be particularly challenging. Many adolescents have difficulty with socialization during the preteen and teen years, but for those diagnosed with AS, these issues are often magnified. While in elementary school, students usually had a predictable routine, with many of them staying in one classroom throughout the day except for physical education, art and music. Because children with autism usually thrive on routine, the elementary school years may go quite smoothly.
Middle school is often a big adjustment for any student because of the onset of puberty as well as the multitude of changes throughout each day. They have to adjust to juggling class schedules, lockers, a variety of teachers, and other issues. The routines of walking in lines and sitting with the class during lunch are left behind once they exit those elementary school doors for the last time.
The once quiet lunch room they may have experienced in the lower grades is replaced with what may seem like chaos and noise to children with autism. Crowded halls filled with students racing from their lockers to the next class can be overwhelming. When you combine these challenges with peer pressure and social problems, like ridicule and bullying, a child with Aspergers may feel overwhelmed and have a difficult time coping from one day to the next.
Hopefully, educators are well acquainted with the issues surrounding the behavior of a child diagnosed with Aspergers, and middle school teachers should be especially vigilant in watching out for problems concerning these children. There are several common misconceptions associated with Asperger's syndrome.
- Children with Aspergers are sometimes perceived as having low intelligence, when in fact, they are often extremely bright, especially in particular areas.
- Children with Aspergers may seem rude and obnoxious, when in actuality they are often just being honest. One of their areas of difficulty is often knowing how to use tact when talking to someone else.
- They may have a large vocabulary, but they may have problems with reading comprehension.
- They may seem to ignore certain instructions, when in reality they don't do well with a variety of instructions given at one time.
- They may appear to ignore others simply because they have difficulty making eye contact, but for the most part, they have heard what was said.
Children with Aspergers may be socially immature, and this can often set them up for ridicule and bullying. Educators must pay special attention to what is going on in middle school environment to protect and encourage these children on a day to day basis. Some common middle school strategies include the following:
- Create as much structure as possible for the child with Aspergers.
- Communicate frequently with other teachers and the child's parents about any problems and progress the child is experiencing.
- Help the child stay organized with assignment notebooks, graphic organizers, weekly calendars, etc.
- Give directions clearly, using visual and verbal clues.
- Understand that children with Aspergers may have physical difficulties as well.
- Because children with Aspergers may take medicine during the day, teachers need to understand that certain behaviors may be more prevalent as the medicine wears off each day.
Finally, recognize that each day is a challenge for any adolescent but particularly for those children who have Aspergers syndrome. Consistent communication and daily monitoring can make all the difference in the life of a middle school child with this condition.