March 2017 E-Newsletter

March 6, 2017

The Roadmap to Independence -- MIddle School

The next step in the Roadmap to Independence is middle school. Middle school can be a scary time for everyone, but most especially for students with ASD and their families. While this period is a time of incredible growth and independence, it can also be a time of more complex social situations, increased academic challenges, and multiple transitions. However, middle school is also a time for individualization and expansion of interests into school clubs and organizations. With a little help, many students can find their niche and develop lasting relationships with people who share their interests! Joining these interest-based clubs and organizations allows students with ASD to capitalize on their strengths and interests and helps promote true friendships.

Did you know?

During this period, life skills and preparing for adulthood becomes important. While many 7th graders may not need to know how to balance a checking account, they WILL need to focus on independently managing hygiene needs, understanding how to do laundry, and making an after school snack like a sandwich or a bowl of mac-n-cheese. These are skills that will need to be taught using the same skills we use in the classroom including visual supports, modeling, and more! Self-advocacy also becomes more important during middle school. Students need to learn more about their abilities, their challenges, and how to advocate for themselves. While students may take small steps toward learning these types of skills in middle school, it’s important for them to start BEFORE they get to high school! Parents and caregivers can take the self-determination checklist from I’m Determined to know more about where to start!

How to Help

Prepare for the transition to middle school early! Emily Helmboldt, Technical Assistance Associate at VCU-ACE, discusses this transition in our latest Ask the Expert video. She states, “One of the main things I say to [school] teams is make sure that you have a strong transition plan coming into middle school. Get with that sending team from elementary school in the spring if you can, if not in person then just via email and send information to become familiarized with that student’s needs. And then hopefully have that student have some kind of orientation or some kind of tour of the building so that they can, and you can, anticipate any potential areas of support. Another thing is to really focus in on independence skills. You know, that might look like having some visual supports in place right when that student starts their year so that they can navigate the school building better, they can understand what they need from class to class, and that kind of thing. The third thing that I talk to teams a lot about is social skills. If the student hasn’t had much focus on that prior to middle school, looking at social communication and social skills is really essential, especially because again, that social world that they are in has become more complex.” For more information and tips about transitioning to middle school, watch the full video here:

Quick Tip!

Bullying is also a major concern during middle school years. Fitting in with peers is important for most middle school students; however, many students with autism tend to stand out. As Staci Carr, discusses in the VCU-ACE webcast on bullying, “They [students with ASD] don't necessarily fit in as easily. They prefer to be alone, most of the time….because they tend to spend more time alone, that puts them more at risk.” Staci recommends discussing safe areas and unsafe areas with students, utilizing peer education programs and promoting peer involvement, increasing supervision in hallways and bathrooms, addressing social communication skills, and being on the lookout for signs of bullying. For more information, watch the webcast on bullying at this link:

Want to learn more?

To learn more about the Roadmap to Independence, register for the Foundations of Autism Spectrum Disorder course here:

To learn more about social skills for students, watch the webcast, “Navigating the Social Highway: A Road Map of Social Skills Programming for ASD” with Wendy Clayton, M.Ed. and Teresa Crowson, OTR/L, MAEd at this link:

To learn more about bullying prevention, watch the webcast, “3 Rs to Bullying Prevention for Students with Disabilities: Recognize, Respond, Report” with Lori Ernsperger, Ph.D., BCBA-D at this link:

Don't Forget!

This month’s webcast on March 14th is with Cyndi Pitonyak, Technical Assistance Associate at VCU-ACE. Cyndi is presenting “Inclusion: What does it mean and who is it for?” This webinar will explore how to realize the many benefits of inclusion by expanding the definition, and will introduce a tool for examining how IEPs can be implemented in inclusive classrooms for a broad range of students. Register for the webcast here:

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