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When Grades and Behavior Get Worse After Starting Middle School

“Our son (high functioning) did fairly well in elementary school, but things have taken a turn for the worse in a big way ever since he started middle school. This is his first year. Grades are worse, behavior problems are off the hook, he isolates in his room all evening, has no friends, seems depressed, and I could list several more issues here. Is this an age-related issue, a school-related issue, an aspect of having the disorder - what?!”

The answer is all three. Your son has hit (or is near hitting) puberty, and the transition to middle school is a tough one – especially for kids with special needs.

When you move on from the 6th grade, you must move to a new building, which takes some time to adjust to. You take a different bus, with different students. Furthermore, the friends you made in elementary school often end up going to different middle schools. As you probably know, kids with an autism spectrum disorder HATE change and a disruption to their routine.

A child with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger’s often experiences the following when the move on to middle school:
  • academic performance may continue strong, but usually only in those areas of particular interest
  • anxiety issues often become apparent
  • attentional and organizational difficulties may start to occur
  • because they are frequently managed in mainstream educational settings - and their specific developmental problems may be more easily overlooked, they are often misunderstood at this age by teachers and peers
  • learning difficulties may become frequent
  • pressure may build up in the child with little clue until he or she over-reacts in a dramatically inappropriate manner
  • problems related to socialization and behavioral adjustment
  • some degree of depression is not uncommon 
  • teachers often have less opportunity to get to know the child well, and as a result, problems with behavior or study habits may be attributed to emotional, motivational, or behavioral problems
  • the child may get into escalating conflicts or power struggles with teachers and other students who may not be familiar with his or her developmental style of interacting, which can lead to more serious behavioral issues
  • their behavior may become increasingly problematic in the form of noncooperation
  • there will be ongoing subtle tendencies to misinterpret information, particularly abstract or figurative/idiomatic language
  • they may be left out, misunderstood, teased and bullied because middle school comes with pressures for conformity - and intolerance for differences
  • they want to make friends and fit in, but unable to, they may withdraw even more

First and foremost, make sure your son has an effective 504 Plan or IEP in place. Also, encourage your son to join a club, sport, or activity that he has a high interest in. In this way, he will be associating with others who share his interest. It's a great way for him to get to know peers he doesn't know yet, will help him to feel more at home at his new school. By next year, he will be that cool older student who's helping out the new student.  

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

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