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

Middle School

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 afindley@warren.k12.in.us.

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:


Happy Transitioning!


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  1. I have Asperger’s, so maybe I can help. Social stories have been known to help people with Autism deal with transitions, everyday activities, upcoming events, among other things. Maybe it will help to write a social story for your child about starting middle school, in order to help make the transition smoother. Be sure to include changes such as switching classes, growing apart from elementary school friends, rapidly changing friendships, having a locker where they can store their belongings, among other changes that will happen in middle school. Make sure to emphasize that these changes are okay, and that a lot of children have difficulty with these changes.

    Another thing to discuss with your soon-to-be middle schooler is the difference between reporting (also known as informing or telling) and tattling (also known as snitching or ratting someone out). Reporting (also known as informing or telling) is when you tell a trusted adult authority figure about a situation because you are concerned about your safety or the safety of others, trying to keep someone out of trouble, OR because you have tried handling the situation yourself, and have been unsuccessful. Tattling (also known as snitching or ratting someone out) is when you tell a trusted adult authority figure about a situation because you want to get someone into trouble, or control someone. When children are in elementary school (especially early on), most often, they are known for reporting every single wrongdoing on the part of another person. Around late elementary or middle school, most kids begin to understand the social implications of telling an adult, and consider doing so under ANY circumstances a wrongdoing itself. Now, just to be clear, I am not saying that you should teach your soon-to-be middle schooler not to tell an adult about situations that seem unsafe. In fact, if someone is making them or others feel unsafe, they should actually be encouraged to report the incident to a trusted adult. However, they should be taught about which incidents should immediately be reported to a trusted adult, and which situations they should try to handle on their own first. For example, your child needs to understand that if Matt calls them a name, they can just tell him things like, “you know, Matt, it really hurts my feelings when people call me names, so please don’t do it again.” Or, “hey, Matt, please don’t call me names like that, because I don’t like it.” But if your child has asked Matt several times not to call them names, and he continues to do it, that is when they need to seek help from a trusted adult. However, if your child sees a weapon in Chloe’s locker, they need to understand that this is a situation that needs to be reported to a trusted adult right away. Teach your child to ask themselves these questions before they decide whether or not to tell a trusted adult. “Am I concerned about my own safety?” “Am I concerned about somebody else’s safety?” “Is it something illegal?” “have I tried addressing the situation myself enough times?” “Have I been successful?” “Is there an alternative?” This skill will not only be helpful in middle school, but in the real world.

  2. One thing I want people to know is that many people on the Autism Spectrum have difficulty understanding when the rules don’t need to be followed. In fact, some might not even understand that there are EVER times where the rules don’t need to be followed. If this is an issue for your child, I would suggest mentioning this to your child’s teachers, as well as to any other adults whom it may concern. When we are around toddler to early elementary school age, adults usually teach us the rules in a rather rigid manner. For example, we are taught to always say no to strangers, everything must be fair all the time, fair means exactly equal, we must always apologize when we have wronged someone, and that we are not supposed to do things we have been asked not to do. However, as we get older, most of us begin to understand that the rules we were taught when we were younger don’t apply in all situations. However, some people on the Autism Spectrum might continue to understand the rules in a very rigid manner well into adulthood, unless things are explained otherwise.

    Also, before your child starts middle school, make sure they understand the difference between reporting (a. k. a. informing or telling) and tattling (a. k. a. snitching or ratting someone out). Reporting (a. k. a. informing or telling) is if it is a serious issue. Tattling (a. k. a. snitching or ratting someone out) is if it is a minor incident. If you prefer not to use terms such as, “reporting,” or, “tattling,” you can easily replace these terms with terms such as, “you SHOULD tell an adult,” or, “you DO NOT NEED to tell an adult.” The reason why this is important is because some individuals on the Autism Spectrum might tell a trusted adult about minor infractions, because they want to make sure everybody is doing exactly as they are supposed to do. This is likely to eventually cause a rift between them and their fellow students, teachers, and later, coworkers and bosses. At the other extreme, some individuals on the Autism Spectrum might witness a serious incident, and not tell an adult they trust, because they think that doing so is tattling. If this happens, somebody could become injured, or there could be other serious problems. Telling about somebody cutting in line is tattling. Telling about somebody repeatedly cutting in line, even after that person has been asked to wait their turn several on several occasions is reporting. If somebody says something that hurts your feelings, and it is just an isolated incident, this is a time where you DO NOT NEED to tell an adult. Instead, you can just tell the person that this hurts your feelings, or that you don’t like when people say this, and ask them to please not say it again. If you have repeatedly asked this person not to say something, and they continue to say it, this is a time where you SHOULD tell an adult. If you tell an adult that somebody is in the wrong spot, this is snitching. If you see someone hit someone else, and you tell an adult, this is informing. If you tell an adult that somebody took the last of the chocolate ice cream, and won’t let your friend have it, this is ratting somebody out. If somebody tells you that a parent (or an adult they live with) hurts them, and you tell an adult about what that person told you, this is telling.

    Another thing to discuss with your child before the start of middle school is how fairness doesn’t always mean that everybody gets treated exactly the same. It is about everybody getting what they need in order to be successful. If your child complains that you don’t discipline his younger sibling like you would have disciplined him or her at the same age, this is likely not because your child feels like somebody is not getting what they need or deserve (although that might be part of it). This is likely because your child remembers when they were younger, and adults explained fairness as everybody getting ONE cookie. Or FOUR turns on the slide.

  3. One thing to consider is that some students with disabilities, especially Autism, can understand and follow most rules (especially if the rule is explicitly stated), but have some difficulty knowing when the rules don’t need to be followed. In fact, some students might not even understand that there are ever times where the rules don’t need to be followed. For example, if they are taught that it’s not ok to do something that you have been asked not to do, they will think that it’s never ok to do it. They will not understand that it’s only ok to do it in emergency situations, but it’s not ok to just do it whenever you want.

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