Special needs tweens: How to ease the transition to middle school

The tween years are a time of increased independence, body changes, social pressures and additional responsibility, yet they are also a wonderful time for children to be industrious and show their true potential.

For tweens with special needs, middle school can be difficult, warns Ellen Sternweiler, owner of The Sensory Kids Store in Wilmette and mom to three children with developmental difficulties.

“But you’ve got this. You’ve made it this far. You’re going to make it,” she says.

Sternweiler assembled a panel of special needs parents and Educational Therapist Richard Bograd for the 2015 Neighborhood Parents Network Developmental Differences Resource Fair to discuss the changing demands of middle school.

Transitioning to middle school can be scary and confusing; but with your continued support, kids can more easily overcome this next big hurdle.

They offered these tips to set your child up for success:

1 Continue to communicate with teachers.

Even though parents are encouraged to be more hands-off in middle school, you know your child’s unique challenges.

2 Go after what your kid needs.

For example, if no reference materials are provided in class but your child needs them to succeed, ask for them.

3 Reassess your child’s IEP.

The therapeutic gap may have widened due to complex curriculum or increased demand for executive functioning skills.

4 Help your child thrive during unstructured times.

Coach them on breaking into lunchroom conversations. Aid them in developing social circles. Friends are a necessary respite from the stress of the day.

5 Talk about their changing bodies.

Kids will notice if they are early or late in development. Have explicit, open, honest conversations.

6 Maintain healthy eating and sleeping routines.

Your child is older, but facing many challenges. Keep a 9 p.m. bedtime.

7 Celebrate successes.

While it may be difficult to watch your child come in last, realize that he may have improved his performance or played his personal best.

8 Teach and encourage your child to text message friends.

Cellphones are a major mode of communication in middle school.

9 Limit screen time during the week.

On weekends, allow one hour as soon as kids wake up. They get what they want right away; parents get more sleep.

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