Transitioning to Middle School

Q&A with Lisa Rogers

Q: Dear Lisa,

My son has High functioning Autism and is in general education classes in public school. He will be going to Middle School next year and I was wondering how should I prepare the teachers for him, and him for the teachers? This will be different as he no longer has just one teacher but will have many. We have had our ARD and I know the school does so much but I’m nervous and wanted to know what I can do as his parent.

-Sharon Kaiser/Plano, TX

A: Dear Sharon,

I’m so glad to have this question posed at this time of year. Too often, April or May rolls around and then we begin to have a conversation about transitioning to a new school in the following Fall Semester. By planning ahead, parents and teachers can alleviate the anxiety associated with such a big change and increase success from Day 1 of school. Of course, each person on the spectrum responds to and deals with change in their own way. By including your son in the process, you can make decisions that are tailored to his needs.

Possible activities to consider include the following:

Using Topic Cards to Develop Social Skills in ASD Youth

Topic cards are similar to scripts in that they can help students engage in a variety of topics, beyond their own interests. They are different in that they include just a few words that describe a topic that launch a student or group students in a particular direction. 

Using Choice to Increase Academic Success

A teacher had created a special lunch group to help a student at the middle school level engage in appropriate teen conversations. She had one main interest and it would dominate every conversation. Her interest was in princesses and everything having to do with them. For most young teen girls, princesses were not much of an interesting topic for them.

A Technique to Counteract School Work Avoidance for Students with ASD: Academic Bingo Card

Make sure to catch Lisa Rogers’ discussion about Education and Aspergers tomorrow, Tuesday, July 11th at 6:30pm, where a panel of experts will take your questions after her presentation. Come watch Lisa Rogers in person at the San Antonio Central Library location, or if you can’t make it, watch the livestream online at news4sa.com/live/event. For more information visit our Summer Series page.

Work avoidance seems to be an ongoing issue across different settings and grade levels. In a previous blog, we discussed the use of a checklist with a strategic “sandwiching” of a less preferred activity in between two highly preferred activities. This strategy is often very effective in building success on academic activities that the student would prefer to avoid. However, not one thing works for every student, as you have probably discovered for yourself.

So this week, we will explore a similar strategy that is in a different format: a BINGO card!

Academic Bingo Card

What Are School Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Asperger’s?

Some students with disabilities require accommodations or modifications to their educational program in order to participate in the general curriculum and be successful in school. Each child with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome is different and has their own unique needs. Parents will meet with school personnel in an ARD/IEP meeting to determine what accommodations and modifications should be implemented to best assist their child. It is imperative that parents and educators understand the difference between the two.

Portrait of schoolboy looking at camera at workplace with anothe

For many students with Asperger’s Syndrome, accommodations will be needed to access the curriculum and remain in the least restrictive environment. Accommodations (the HOW) can be made for any student. Students do not need to have a 504 plan or an IEP.

Offering ASD Students Choice to Increase Academic Success

Research indicates that incorporating specific motivations such as offering choices increases the rate of performance on academic tasks and decreases disruptive behaviors. Choice can take on many forms as related to academic tasks.

Child in school, making choice, education

As one example, students can be given several topics to choose from to complete an assignment. Students may also be given a list of several activities, of which they are to complete two. By giving them a choice, students are more likely to begin the assignment and even more likely to complete it.

Using Mnemonic Devices in School for Test Taking Strategies

You might already use mnemonic techniques in your life. If you have five things to get at the grocery store: sugar, tea, apples, rice and soup, you might create and visualize STARS remember your list. In classrooms, mnemonics is a memory enhancing instructional strategy that involves teaching students to
link new information that is taught to information they already know.

Detail of elementary school art class

Mnemonic devices are patterns of letters, sounds, or associated ideas that aid people in remembering information. Keyword, pegword, and letter strategies were the mnemonic devices used in the studies included in this meta-analysis.

These mnemonic techniques use acoustically linked proxy words to connect two pieces of information. For example, students were given the keyword “rainy day” and told to think of a frog sitting in the rain to remember that the scientific classification for common frogs is ranidae.

Making and Using Keychain Rules to Help Behavior for Children with Autism

Q: “I’ve heard that if my son (who is on the autism spectrum) is having a problem staying on task while in school that he should use the “keychain rules”. Would you please explain this term to me?”  – Curious in Nashville, Tenn

A: Keychain rules are short statements or phrases of desired expectations that capitalize on the tendency toward rules and structure. They serve as reminders in a quick and easy format that prevent much discussion about them. Rather than say, “stay in your seat” over and over without much impact, the teacher can now say, “Please check keychain rule number 4”. Again, if the rules are attached to a heightened interest, their effectiveness is enhanced.

This student’s interest in Greek mythology was incorporated to his keychain rules as much as possible through the addition of pictures.

Keychain Rule #1: Use appropriate words and voice

  • Say nice things to others
  • Speak in a respectful tone [level 1, 2, or 3]

Keychain Rule #2: Follow directions from teachers

  • Teachers and Mom are trying to help me, so be sure to say “O.K. I’ll try”
  • Give my teachers and Mom a smile or a “thumbs up”

Preventing Meltdowns: Part two

There is nothing amusing about “the meltdown”. It is reflective of a complete loss of control of the person with an autism spectrum disorder. It is often loud, risky at times, frustrating, and exhausting.

Here is a video that explains meltdowns from the perspective of someone living with autism.  Feel free to share with others, as it is available through youtube.

 Ask an Autistic: What is a meltdown?

One might say that the loss of control overtakes the child. They need their teacher or parent to recognize this and help them to regain control, as they are unable to do so on their own. A child with autism in the middle of the meltdown desperately needs help to regain composure.

A Feelings Chart and Calming Activities for Children with ASD

In a previous blog we discussed the need to support students in identifying and expressing their feelings through the use of a feelings chart. The feelings chart may be on a scale of “one to three” or “one to five” with level one indicating that the student is most calm.

Happy group of kids

If possible, you can increase the effectiveness of this strategy by decorating the different levels with pictures/clip art that reflect a student’s interest. I have created feelings charts with different expressive pictures of Mario Bros, dinosaurs and even The Dukes of Hazzard characters!

Preventing Meltdowns

Although we have addressed the topic of meltdowns previously, it is a topic that needs to be revisited often, given the intense nature of the meltdown. “People with autism, new research suggests, may have an unusually large and overactive amygdala. This may be one reason why people with autism are easily overstimulated and have a hard time understanding and managing emotions.” – University of Washington

meltdown

This is one of many neurological findings that helps to explain how meltdowns are very different from tantrums. They originate from a neurological place of sensory differences: an over-abundance of neuronal pathways. The brain, whether through too much sensory input, cascading thoughts, chemical overload or some cumulative effect of all of these, gets overwhelmed!

I know individuals with autism can help understand the horror of the meltdown better than any observer. So I would like to refer to Carly Fleischmann for her unique perspective. The following is an excerpt from her website: