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. 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:
- Determine the point of contact[s] at the new school
- Plan a visit to the new campus; coordinate with a small group of friends if possible
- Set up a Circle of Friends or buddy/social coach
- Provide a map of the new campus
- Build a schedule that includes student interests
- Build a schedule that will meet sensory needs
- Write a social story about the new campus and new staff. You can find a sample social story in video format at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qk0Nag4zvJk
- Consider beginning to switch several classrooms at the elementary campus to practice this new aspect of Middle School life in a safe environment
- Ensure the new staff have training in autism to build common understanding
- Ensure that visual supports are in place to prevent stress. Signs on the first week of school can help navigate a new environment [e.g. schedule, scripts, narratives, etc.]
- Discuss whether or not the student will benefit from a “Home Base”. A “Home Base” is a predetermined location for the student to regain composure or work through a problem.
- Develop a plan for communication between home and school
In addition, I strongly recommend creating a portfolio of your child’s strengths, needs and interests.
Include academic, behavioral, communicative, and sensory information that will be relevant to them better understanding your child. I find adding pictures or even video clips can increase the impact of the portfolio. You can compile this information in many formats, including PowerPoint or Movie Maker. Optimally, you can reach out to your current teachers to develop this collaboratively as part of the transition process.
I would like to include a very specific and innovative example of how a campus facilitated a positive transition to Middle School from the Indiana Resource for Autism. You can go to this link for the article and then review the website for other useful resources:
Hats Off To MSD of Warren Township: S.A.F.E. Supporting Autism for Everyone
Contributed by Melissa Dubie
Transitioning from elementary to middle school can be difficult for our students on the autism spectrum. One autism team in Indianapolis, MSD of Warren Township, decided to give support to their students at Raymond Park, Stonybrook, and Creston Middle School by creating autism teams in each of their buildings that would Support Autism For Everyone (S.A.F.E.). They involved administrators in the three middle schools to help support them in creating a plan.
First, middle school staff were trained by the district’s middle school autism team on the characteristics of individuals on the autism spectrum.
Then staff members were hand-picked by the middle school autism team and by administrators at each school with the goal of having one or two people in each area of the building. The S.A.F.E. team then consisted of 10-12 staff members who were counselors, secretaries, nurses, general education teachers, special education teachers, and administrators.
The team members agreed to spend time after school learning more specifics about strategies that work with students on the autism spectrum and about the individual students within their buildings. The student’s parents were notified about the creation of the S.A.F.E. team and the training that was going to occur. Each were encouraged to participate when student’s interests and profiles were presented to staff.
The goal was to empower the staff by teaching strategies that can be used with students with ASD specific to secondary school settings.
Student specific training included confidentiality issues related to specific student information, student’s birth date, grade level, teacher of record, likes and dislikes, and information about what does and does not work in their programming. Some of the parents came to their child’s school to assist with the training. In addition, an autism simulation was presented, scenarios were given to the group to problem solve, and a binder of strategies to refer to later were given to each member.
Each staff member of the S.A.F.E. team were given a bright orange lanyard with puzzle pieces on it to wear so that the students know who the S.A.F.E. people are to help them in a difficult situation.
These lanyards were funded by the director of special education, Lucy Witte. A puzzle piece was hung on each person’s door to alert students which rooms could be used as S.A.F.E. rooms to go to when needed. In addition, each staff member is given a list of names, pictures of the students in the building that are on the autism spectrum, and the teacher of record to contact if a student needs assistance. Staff have shown extensive enthusiasm by taking time to build a rapport to help the students be successful in their school. Some have even decided to meet with students monthly for lunch in order to make connections with individual students.
The students are given a S.A.F.E. card that they can show to staff if they need assistance. Students are taught who the safe people are in the school and are given pictures of S.A.F.E. staff members they can go to within the building.
If a person with ASD needs to go to a S.A.F.E. room to calm down, there is a sheet that provides a visual guide to help the student work through the situation by having them write the problem, draw a picture, or circle what happened, including where, who and why from their perspective.
M.S.D. of Warren Township has found this program to be very successful and hope to develop a S.A.F.E. team at Warren Central High School in the near future.
For further information on how to set up Supporting Autism for Everyone Team in your school district, contact Anna Findley (Autism Team Coordinator) at MSD Warren Township in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her phone number is (317) 869-4417 and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dubie, M. (2006). Hats off to . . . MSD of Warren Township: (S.A.F.E. supporting autism for everyone). The Reporter, 11(2), 5.
And lastly, I have included a resource published by the Autism Society which can be found at:
The Education (K-12) Blogs and Special Ed Q & A are written and maintained weekly by Lisa Rogers with Educating Diverse Learners. Lisa received her M.A. in Special Education with an endorsement in the area of individuals with severe disabilities. Mrs. Rogers has also created products that have been used throughout the state of Texas for training purposes. Through the Association for Texas Professional Educators [ATPE], Ms. Rogers has produced an online course that targets the importance of visual strategies for student with autism spectrum disorders and just released her highly anticipated book titled: Visual Supports for Visual Thinkers.
Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.