Moving to Middle School
Leaving elementary school and facing transition to middle school was scary, just as it is for all other students. We kept hearing about all of the different social and behavior expectations of being a middle schooler. In terms of classroom setting, we had to do a backward slide back into a self-contained MOID classroom. For us this meant there would be less room for creativity with her schedule and activities, therefore less individualization. Understandably, teachers have their schedules, routines, plans, etc. Jess just usually did not thrive in a rigid schedule and plan.
By the time we reached Jessica’s last few years of school, IEP meetings had become simply a formality. It is because of those last few years of having faith and trust that everything was going to be okay with the IEP that I can now look back through middle school IEP records and laugh. Surely teachers and administrators hated having those meetings with us. I found notes where we went goal by goal, objective by objective, reviewing, tweaking, approving, or completely discarding them. I just imagine that behind the scenes there were some who had unflattering things to say about the depth of our involvement considering we were not “educators” but merely parents.
As I was reviewing the middle school IEP, I found myself questioning our level of involvement. Were we overbearing? Were we unreasonable? I feel sure there are those who would disagree with me, but I came to the conclusion that we were not. We were her advocates.
In the old paperwork, I found one hand-written note from an elementary school teacher responding to my request that Jessica’s parapro remain with her during music class so that she could be more interactive with the class. The teacher wrote to me that she would “accommodate me” by letting the parapro go with Jess to music class. However, that was a prime example of why she had a parapro; it was so she could be included and have guidance to participate. I was not okay with their goal being for Jessica to be able to be still and sit quietly during an interactive music class.
I found a note from middle school, when Jess had reached a point where she did not want to go to school each morning. The note dismissed my concerns because, “all seventh graders don’t want to go to school.” Did I need to point out that Jessica is not all seventh graders? Could I make them understand that this was a pattern that we faced every year or so which required changing things up a little to keep her happy and interested. How many teachers looked beyond what they saw at school and realized this was our life. Every day, all day, all night. It was not just about Jess not wanting to go to school. It was about having a family life, about having four other members of the family that matter, and about trying to find bits and pieces of peace and harmony. It was about not wanting Jess to be miserable and wither, but wanting her to be happy and thrive. Jess has this wonderful zest for life that is contagious. She is adventurous, comical and fun. We wanted to do what it took to maintain that, not squelch it. When we said we had concerns about her being unhappy and not wanting to go to school, we meant it quite seriously.
As I ever so briefly pondered the question of whether or not we were overbearing and unreasonable while working on establishing a new plan for Jess at the middle school, I remembered not only were we Jessica specialists, but we were also the autism specialist. We had more training and experience with autism than anyone in the school. I remembered that there was not an autism class nor an autism teacher for Jess. I remembered that we knew Jessica the best. We knew what she could learn. We knew how she could best learn, and we knew what her limits were. We were her advocates.
If we drove the teachers and administrators crazy, they kept it to themselves very well. They were always professional and always willing to try to accommodate most of our requests. Jess loved all of the people at middle school very much, and they loved her back. The students she made friends with were accepting, helpful, and sweet.
We were there a long time and those were really good years.
If you are new to Autism After School – The Transitional Truth, Jess is an autistic and visually impaired young adult. I am telling our story to help other parents and professionals learn from our journey. My hope is to help others better prepare for experiences within the educational system and the transition to adulthood.