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Feeling Stuck? Ideas for the Middle School Years
If your child on the autism spectrum is in Middle School and has been diagnosed for a while, you may be looking for what to do next. The suggestions below are written on the assumptions that your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan and, if you live in Pennsylvania, that you have obtained Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Services (BHRS) through Medical Assistance (MA) or through your private health plan and are comfortable with how that is going. So what else can you consider to help your child?
- Certainly review your child's IEP. Is it current? Are the goals measurable and appropriate now that your child is in Middle School? If your child has a 504 Plan, is it working? Should you request an evaluation to determine if your child now qualifies for an IEP? In particular, Middle School students on the autism spectrum are likely to need additional support with organization and executive functioning skills as well as navigating complicated Middle School peer relationships.
- Does your child know about his or her diagnosis? What does this mean to him or to her? If appropriate, seek out support to help your child improve self-esteem.
- Is your team working on building your child's advocacy skills? Can your child verbalize what supports he or she needs to be successful? Can your child ask for the things he or she needs, such as a break or a quiet room to study?
- Consider enrolling your child in therapy outside of school, such as a Social Skills Group, Occupational Therapy, and/or Speech Therapy, to supplement the therapies your child receives at school. Is medication an option you want to consider?
- How about extra-curricular activities? If your child likes Legos®, robot building, theater, music, baseball, soccer, etc., find a group for your child to join. Natural friendships can evolve from shared interests. Groups can be specifically created for children on the autism spectrum (like the ones included in the CAR Resource Directory™) or can be groups which are open to the general public. (Regardless of which group you choose, make sure the group is able to support the needs of your child.)
- Unscheduled time is important and necessary for good mental health. Be sure your child's day is not completely scheduled; children need time to just be, as do adults! Rest and relaxation should be in everyone's day.
- Plan for fun! Schedule time to play as a family, time to go out as a couple, and time to re-coop as individuals.
- Do your child's behaviors confound you? Does he or she have uncontrollable outbursts that you can't explain or control? Consider requesting a Functional Behavioral Assessment from your child's school or have someone complete one in your home.
- Help your child to have good functional life skills. What can you do at home to encourage healthy independence and help your child feel good about doing things for him or herself? Independence can be freeing! Can your child follow his bedtime routine on his own? The morning routine? Can she make her own lunch? Pay for a movie ticket? What activities can your child do that will help contribute to the family's well-being (for example, taking out the trash, setting the table, clearing dishes)?
- Puberty, if it hasn't arrived, will be here very shortly. Think about it and plan. Also, though it may seem awkward, it is important to talk to your child about sexuality.
- Around the time your child enters puberty, he or she may become more likely to experience seizures. While seizures do not occur in the majority of children on the autism spectrum, you should be aware of what to look for and how to react if your child has a seizure.
- Think about what's next. Most states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, require goals related to transition to adulthood to be included in your child's IEP beginning at age 14. Federal law requires that transition begin at age 16.
Still want more ideas? If you live in the Greater Philadelphia Area, consider attending a Next Steps into Adolescence workshop or REACH for the Future, hosted by the Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.