The Transition to Middle School for Kids with ADHD
The transition to middle school from elementary is tough for any kid, let alone kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Middle schoolers are hormone-riddled, parent-defying, not-quite-adolescent bundles of angst who suddenly find themselves more independent and socially engaged than ever. Many of our kids with ADHD spent years just trying to manage one classroom in elementary school. As parents, we're just as anxiety-ridden when we have to figure it all out again when our children transition to middle school.
Preparing Kids with ADHD for the Transition to Middle School
We spent years helping my son manage in a conventional classroom and now we have to transition to middle school. Despite the ADHD diagnosis and an individualized education plan (IEP), by fourth grade, he was still finishing less than 50% of his school work. We contemplated holding him back. He finally succeeded in fifth grade because we put him in a special education emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) classroom. That level of need isn't typical for a kid with just ADHD but my son also has disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) and intense anxiety.
This last year, he loved school. He tested at or above grade level in all subjects and he graduated. It was an amazing milestone.
Then the parental panic kicked in. We'd just figured out how to help him be successful in one classroom and now he'd have to manage seven in middle school. He'd had nine other kids in his class this year. Next year, there could be up to 30.
How does one prepare a kid for the independence and awkwardness of middle school when he has difficulty organizing, remembering things, and even sitting still in elementary?
Managing the Anxiety of a Transition to Middle School
Two things trigger my son's symptoms: boredom and anxiety.
To manage the anxiety, we started preparation for middle school beginning in Fall of fifth grade. We adjusted his IEP to reflect changes we needed to see before graduation. For instance, his special education classroom had less homework than a typical fifth grader, so as he showed the ability to complete his work, we increased that work.
We toured the middle school in early Spring so he could see it. When I learned about a science and technology summer school program at the middle school, I signed him up. Some kids on an IEP qualify for "extended year" services, which means summer school is needed to maintain academic progress. My son doesn't qualify for this so discovering a (free) summer program was amazing. He could practice finding classrooms in the same halls he'd wander this coming Fall and he'd get to practice managing homework and free time between classes.
Today was his first day of doing summer school and it went well. He doesn't seem to have noticed the subtle pushing we had been doing all year. Hopefully, this is a sign school things feel natural to him and not a sign that he has completely ignored everything we were doing.
Both options are possible.
Managing the Boredom and Outbursts of ADHD in Middle School
My hope is to use summer school to figure out what works or doesn't in a middle school setting. Meanwhile, during his actual school year, he'll have access to a "resource" classroom provided to kids who need high support, per their IEPs. This classroom provides two hours of social/emotional learning and academic support.
My hope is that if he's working up to an outburst, he can take a break in that resource room, walk it off, and go back. If he gets bored, I'm hoping the emotional learning support he gets will help him manage it. He might be 11 years old, but socially and emotionally, he's closer to eight.
If he can make it through this first year or two, I'll be ecstatic, and he'll be prepared for high school. High school is not too much different in terms of structure. I'll only have to worry about prom and driver's education then.
David, M. (2018, June 19). The Transition to Middle School for Kids with ADHD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2018/6/the-transition-to-middle-school-for-kids-with-adhd