Levi doesn’t like school. Not surprising for a 12-year-old boy, but Levi has autism. So when I say he doesn’t like school, I really mean that Levi doesn’t like crowds, new situations, sitting still, loud noises, and new people. Throw in some weird smells and you have a pretty accurate description of elementary school.
In fourth grade Levi often refused to get out of the car during drop-off and the assistant principal had to help me convince him to go to school.
In fifth grade the school called me the first week to let me know Levi had locked himself in the boys bathroom and was calling the principal rude names. It took me 30 minutes to get him out of the bathroom.
In sixth grade his anxiety was especially high and he refused to go to class on the first day of school. It took a familiar classroom aide over an hour to convince him to go.
Now he was facing junior high, and my anxiety was growing. I consider junior high as warm and friendly as the gang from Lord of the Flies. I needed to up my game in preparing him for school. Luckily, his current assistant principal was moving to the junior high as the new administrator. We sat down and came up with four action items to help Levi transition to junior high.
- Prepare an Individual Education Plan
An individual education plan (IEP) lists the strengths and weaknesses of a student. It explains accommodations and modifications that a student needs to succeed. This plan is an important bit of information for a teacher to have. Unfortunately, the IEP doesn’t always make its way into the teacher’s hands until long after school has started.
Remember the year Levi locked himself in the boy’s bathroom? His classroom teacher had not yet received a copy of his IEP and didn’t know his triggers. She unintentionally upset him during class. He became agitated and locked himself in the bathroom. If she had received his IEP before school started, this situation could have been avoided.
An IEP should also be updated before junior high. Expectations and assignments are different from elementary school. Teachers should know the modifications and accommodations from day one.
- Take a Walk
Levi was extremely worried about not being able to find his classes. So I arranged a day for Levi to walk through his schedule. Many junior high’s have a day for everyone to find classes and meet teachers, but for an autistic child, it is sensory overload. Ask administrators if your child can come at a different day or time so that his or her walk through isn’t chaotic. We were able to walk through his schedule a few times until he felt more comfortable. We also located bathrooms, the lunch room and the media center.
- Meet the Teachers
New faces are overwhelming to many autistic children. Levi worried about meeting six new teachers. So to help him feel more comfortable we were able to meet with each teacher. Seeing their faces and introducing himself to them before school started gave him a familiar face to look for that first day.
Meeting the teachers also allowed us to verify that each had a copy of his IEP and had prepared for his curriculum modifications.
- Create a Safe Place
During Levi’s elementary days, he fled to the boy’s bathroom a couple of times before we realized he needed a safe place to go when he felt overwhelmed. We realized that he would need a similar place to go during junior high. So we created an emergency plan and a daily plan for him.
Each day Levi had a study hall class. Study hall was not offered at our school. However, the administration and I felt he needed time each day to decompress. Our amazing administrator talked to the media center librarian and created a study hall of one, just for Levi. He went to the media center and completed homework, took tests, or read a book. Sometimes he helped the librarian with tasks she needed done. This class occurred in the middle of his day and created a quiet reprieve.
The second safe place we created was an emergency room. Instead of locking himself in the bathroom, we found a room in the office where he could go. He would come to the front office and let them know he needed a quiet place. The staff was aware of the situation and allowed him access. However, Levi never needed this room. I believe by creating the study hall, and having the librarian become a new trusted adult, he was able to manage.
Levi’s first day of school was successful. I received no phone calls from the school and Levi made it to each class. The extra time we put into preparing him calmed my anxiety and his. Now if we can just do something about homework.