HCAS Walk & 5K Run Results

The HCAS Walk & 5K Run was a fun event despite the rain!
We appreciate all those who were able to participate and contribute to our fundraising event.  But wait, it’s not over!
Please know that the event website will remain open through October for additional donations – so please continue to spread the word to family, friends, and colleagues.
You can view photos from the event on Shutterfly at
and click on the link below for race results at

Sensory Friendly Movie, Pete’s Dragon 08/13

Pete's Dragon Movie Poster

Pete’s Dragon, August 13 at 10:00am

AMC is proud to partner with the Autism Society to bring you unique movie showings where you can feel free to be you! We turn the lights up, and turn the sound down, so you can get up, dance, walk, shout or sing!

We are now expanding our Sensory Friendly Film program to four showings per month.

  • The second and fourth Tuesday and Saturday.
  • Family-friendly movies will continue to show Saturdays, starting at 10am local time
  • We’ve added Tuesday showings at 7pm local time that may appeal to others on the autism spectrum.

Share posts and pics of your family fun with #AMCSensoryFriendly.

Ellicott City Flooding Affects Longtime HCAS Supporter, Craig Coyne Jewelers

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Ellicott City Flooding Affects at Craig Coyne Jewelers
The devastating flooding that occurred last Saturday, July 30, 2016, affected a longtime HCAS supporter, Sam Coyne and his business, Craig Coyne Jewelers. Many of you may recall Sam was recognized as the Howard County Autism Society’s 2014 Community Partner Award winner for the unique efforts he extended to partner with HCAS to raise both awareness and funds to
support Howard County’s autism community. Sam not only designed a one of a kind necklace featuring the autism puzzle piece (seen below) but also hosted several fundraising events in his Ellicott City store.
In the aftermath of the devastation in Ellicott City, many are looking for a way to help.  And while emotional support is great, at the end of the day, small business owners will be without income for longer than anyone wants to even imagine. Please take the time to read some of Sam’s words about the flood and aftermath in the link https://www.gofundme.com/craigcoyne and note, he’s still thinking of others. If you are able to help him here, please do. And if you are able to support his store later, please do that as well.
Custom Autism Necklace

HCAS Mourns Passing of Autism Speaks Co-founder

HCAS is very sorry to learn of the loss of Autism Speaks co-founder, Suzanne Wright.  Mrs. Wright lost her battle to pancreatic cancer on Friday, July 29.  Her work to raise awareness of autism was remarkable and she received many awards for her commitment to the cause.   HCAS appreciates her efforts and offer its sympathy to the Wright family. 

Howard County Autism Housing Initiative

The demand for affordable housing options for adults with autism and other disabilities in Howard County is rapidly growing. The HCAS Housing Committee has spent more than two years researching supportive housing models from across the country that could be adapted to address this pressing need. This process led HCAS to identify the intentional, intergenerational community model as an approach that could bring inclusive, affordable housing to Howard County. The model has been used successfully to support child welfare-involved populations in award-winning communities such as Bridge Meadows in Portland, Oregon, where it’s demonstrated effectiveness in increasing housing stability and reducing social isolation.

Weinberg Foundation is Newest Supporter of Catalyst Campaign

HCAS is now joining with community partners to support adaptation of this innovative model for adults with autism and other disabilities, older adults, and families. We have launched a Catalyst Campaign to secure the resources, assemble the expertise and begin forging the critical alliances needed to advance this concept. Click here to download a brochure about the initiative and the Catalyst Campaign. Funds raised through the Campaign will be used to support key planning activities, including identification of a development partner, market research, and development of operational program guidelines.

We’re grateful for the support of early backers of the Campaign such as the PNC Foundation, Harkins Builders and the Health Alliance. We’re also proud to announce the newest supporter of this effort, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, which is making a $25,000 grant to support our planning efforts. The Weinberg Foundation is one of the nation’s leading grantmakers for vulnerable populations with a particular commitment to older adults and disabled adults. We are honored to have earned their early support for this concept.

Be a Catalyst

We’re already halfway toward our 12-month Catalyst Campaign goal of $100,000! Funds raised through the Campaign will be used to support the planning and development efforts in 2017 and 2018 that will ensure this concept advances.

We’re committed to reaching our goal of $100,000 by December 31, 2017. The Community Foundation of Howard County has established a donor fund to receive and expend Catalyst Campaign funds. Please click here to donate and support this effort.

If you have any questions about the housing initiative or the Catalyst Campaign, we’d love to speak with you. Please reach us by email (housing@howard-autism.org) or phone (410/290-3466).

Housing Initiative Named Changemaker Challenge Finalist

The Housing Initiative was pleased to be selected as a finalist for the Changemaker Challenge competition. Sponsored by the Horizon Foundation and the United Way of Central Maryland, the Challenge was designed to support innovative ideas to address some of the most pressing social challenges facing Howard County. We were honored to be among the exciting projects and committed social innovators selected for this recognition.

Housing Initiative in the Baltimore Sun and Howard County Times

We were the subject of an October 5 article in the Baltimore Sun/Howard County Times. Read about us online in The Baltimore Sun.

Community Foundation Annual Dinner Highlights Housing Initiative

More than 400 area leaders and philanthropists were in attendance on November 16 when the housing initiative was highlighted at the Community Foundation of Howard County’s Annual Dinner: A Celebration of Philanthropy. Project Director Mark Dunham shared the vision for the initiative following the showing of our short video, Stronger Together. Thank you to the Community Foundation for this extraordinary opportunity to tell our story to this important audience. You can watch Stronger Together, here.

2016 Howard County Transition Symposium

**Online registration for this event is now closed!**

**Tickets will be available at the door on the day of the event**

 

2016 Howard County Transition Symposium

Saturday, March 19th, 8 am – 5 pm

Cedar Lane School, 11630 Scaggsville Rd, Fulton, MD 20759

Click here for more information and registration.

If you’re interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at the Transition Symposium, please complete the form below and return to info@howard-autism.org.

2016 Symposium Sponsor Form

Please call with any questions:  410-290-3466

‘Autism from a Parents’ Perspective’ WebEx Available

On January 21, HCAS and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) came together to present a WebEx entitled “Autism from a Parents’ Perspective”.  This 1-hour WebEx starts with an ‘Autism 101’ type presentation, followed by a panel of APL employees who are parents of children on the spectrum to discuss their experiences.

The WebEx in its entirety can be viewed by clicking here.

HCAS would like to thank the APL Parents Information Exchange for sponsoring this presentation and making it happen!

Gala Registration Coming Soon!

Registration for the 12th annual Pieces of the Puzzle HCAS gala is coming soon!  We are honored once again to have the support of the John P. Hussman Foundation as our Presenting Sponsor. Please check back after February 15th when registration should be open for this wonderful event.

HCAS – HCPD Expanded Partnership Announcement

HCAS Announces an Expansion of Partnership with the Howard County Police Department!

 

The Howard County Police Department (HCPD) will partner with the Howard County Autism Society (HCAS) to provide entry level recruits first-hand experience with autism as they interact with children, adults, and families affected by the developmental disorder.

Organized by Academy Class 40, recruits will volunteer at upcoming social events hosted by HCAS, and will assist in fundraising efforts for the annual Pieces of the Puzzle Autism Gala to be held on April 30th. Recruits will be able to engage with self-advocates and families with autism in positive and non-threatening environments.

The full press release can be viewed here.
 

Race Results are In! Still time to donate!

The Howard County Autism Society held its 9th Annual One Step Closer Autism Walk & 5K Run on Sunday November 1, 2015 at Centennial Park in Ellicott City. The event was a huge success and we would like to thank everyone who came out to support HCAS and the community.

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Our teams have done an incredible job this year raising money for this event! But, it’s not too late to join in on the excitement and raise funds. To check out how your team is doing or to donate to your favorite runner click here.

How did you do in the race? For race results please click here.

Bullying, Harassment, or Intimidation Reporting Form

The Bullying,Harrassment, or Intimidation Reporting Form, 2013 should be used to report alleged bullying harassment, or intimidation that occurred during the current school year on school property, at a school-sponsored activity or event off school property, on a school bus, or on the way to and/or from school; or that substantially disrupted the orderly operation of the school. Bullying, harassment and intimidation mean any intentional conduct, including verbal, physical or written conduct, or an intentional electronic communication, that creates a hostile educational environment by substantially interfering with a student’s educational benefits, opportunities or performance, or with a student’s physical or psychological well-being.

 

Yes! Bullying Can Be Addressed through the IEP

Today’s headlines are filled with news about bullying at school. The latest phenomenon “bullicide” is when kids who are being bullied commit suicide. Let’s face it, bullying can be pretty scary and should concern most any parent who has a child attending school. However, it is especially worrisome for parents who have children with disabilities, because research shows that kids with disabilities are more likely to be targeted. This is especially so for kids with developmental disabilities such as autism, because they are less likely to be able to navigate their way around social situations by the very nature of their disability.Written by special education advocate Julie Swanson and attorney Jennifer Laviano. ©YourSpecialEducation-Rights.com. Reprinted with permission.

Almost every family we work with that includes a child with ASD reports that their child has been affected by bullying. Unfortunately, we both work with parents who tell us that their school team tells them that bullying can’t be addressed through the special education IEP (Individualized Education Plan).

We are here to say it most certainly can! Here are a few practical tips as you tackle the problem:

1. Ask for your school district’s bullying policy and procedures.

2. Screen your child at home. Talk to him or her and explore what’s happening at school and with peers. Set up a data collection system at home that tracks any changes in behavior.

3. Screen your child at school. Have a team meeting with your child’s special education team and make them aware of the situation. Ask the school team to monitor your child over a period of time and set up a data collection system among the team to track any changes. Make sure that monitoring takes place across all structured and non-structured school settings (the classroom, hallways, lunch room, bathroom, school bus, and at recess).

4. Document the issue and request that the documentation be placed in your child’s educational file.

5. Determine if what is happening is a reportable offense in accordance with school policies.

6. Put a (written) plan in place with the school team.

7. Recognize the difference between a school-wide approach to bullying and a child-centered approach. School-wide approaches include getting other kids involved in resolving the bullying issue such as pairing the student with an ASD with a peer buddy. A child-centered approach involves the child with an ASD gaining a skill or learning to change their own behavior, recognizing a bully or having a bank of responses to say to a bully, for example.

8. Consider what is making your child vulnerable to being bullied. If you don’t identify the specific problem your child is having then it is more difficult to address it and help remediate it through the IEP. For example, is it your child’s inability to read/recognize social cues (shunning, teasing, gesturing, etc.), inability to respond effectively (lack of a strategy bank), or inability to self-advocate. Once you’ve identified these type of issues, you can argue that these social skill deficits should be addressed as social skill goals and objectives in the IEP.

9. Develop a plan targeting your child’s level of ability. Set up a buddy system in unstructured settings (school-wide). Develop incentives for other kids to participate as buddies (school-wide). Develop classroom lessons to raise awareness of bullying, that will be taken seriously and there will be consequences when students bully (school-wide).

10. Develop IEP goals to ad-dress each individual social skill deficit (student-centered). Develop IEP goals to address each individual pragmatic language deficit (student-centered).

From a legal perspective, one of the most difficult challenges in addressing bullying in our public schools is that, while many states do have laws on the books regarding bullying, they generally do not include what is called a “private right of action.” In English, and summarizing a very complicated legal premise, this means that while the law exists, there is no right to sue someone who violates it under that specific statute. Therefore, parents whose children are being routinely tormented at school who are faced with an administration who elects not to properly address the situation are left to utilize other state or federal laws if they want to find justice in our courts.

Therefore, when a parent is considering what rights their child has if their child with autism is being bullied, first and foremost they should ask themselves whether changes need to be made in the IEP. Be prepared to hear your IEP team grumble that bullying is “not a special education issue,” but indeed it is.

If a student’s disability is causing them to exhibit behaviors, which are making them particularly vulnerable to harassment by their peers, or to fail to understand appropriate social interaction in the “mainstream,” then absolutely this needs to be addressed in the student’s special education program.

Without appropriate special education support and instruction for students with disabilities within our public school settings, we are setting our kids with autism up for being targeted, humiliated, and excluded within the regular education environment. This is in direct contravention of one of the key purposes of the IDEA, which is to include children with disabilities in their public schools. What is happening as a result of our failure to adequately scaffold special education programs and instruction for students whose autism spectrum disorder places them at even greater risk for bullying is that we are returning to the days of segregation of children with disabilities, as a matter of fact, if not as a matter of law.

Executive Ulman Launches Effort to Assist Youth with Disabilities in Transition from School to Workforce and Post-Secondary Education

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman has launched an initiative to assist youth with disabilities in their transition from secondary education to the workforce and to more advanced training. County Executive Ulman has created the Howard County Transition Council for Youth with Disabilities, through an executive order. The Transition Council is comprised of 35 members who will oversee strategic recommendations, developed by an earlier workgroup created by the Howard County Public School System, that explored ways to improve post-secondary outcomes for students with disabilities.“We need to create a seamless system so that young people with disabilities reach their full potential as adults,” said County Executive Ulman. “We need to show employers the value that these new workers bring, and we need more training opportunities.”

Headed by Judith Pattik, Coordinator for Special Education with the Howard County Public School System, the Transition Council began meeting in June.

“The work we are embarking on is very exciting given the breadth of knowledge, experience and passion of the Transition Council members.  I am certain we will realize powerful outcomes as we create new and customized options for our students as they transition from school to college and careers,” Pattik said. “We are most appreciative of Executive Ulman’s support in recognizing the importance of this work.”

Under the executive order, the group will create a transitioning plan that coordinates county and state workforce reform efforts, looks at performance outcomes and examines needs of cross-agency training and technical assistance.

“Families that have a child with special needs often face a question mark when they plan for their child’s future.  I think that the County Executive’s initiative will help Howard County families to find better answers,” said John Hussman, a member of the Transition Council who has a 19-year old son with autism.

Howard County Council Chairperson Jen Terrasa said that the Transition Council will “help the community address an important need. We can’t let young people fall through the cracks, and parents need to know that resources are there to help.”

An advocate on disabilities issues, Howard County Councilman Greg Fox added: “This is an extremely important and needed initiative for these children and their families.  I encourage the Transition Council to look at the needs of not just young adults in the workforce, but those who for whatever reason aren’t able to take that step.  We need resources for a broad spectrum of people with disabilities.”

The Transition Council includes nine representatives from the Howard County Public School System, six representatives from Howard County Government, six parent and student representatives and other members from non-profit organizations.  The Transition Council is to deliver a report to the County Executive by June 1, 2014.

To view the executive order, visit www.howardcountymd.gov/Executive.gov.

Back to School Preparation Tips

Summertime is almost over, and it’s time to think about gearing up for school. This can be a welcome thought or a scary one! Even    scarier if your child is moving up and making a big change, whether it be out of RECC, into middle school, or onto freshman year in high school. These big moves are huge milestones for any child, but seem even bigger to our kids.  There are some things we can do to make this transition smoother for the kids…and for us!

Tip #1 : Review all of the information.  Make sure you have a copy of your child’s IEP and know what it says.  Be sure you understand your child’s schedule—the classes, teachers, and setting. Review all the materials sent home including the “typical” information from the school: bus schedules, orientation meetings, and supply lists. Don’t discount the information you can gain from these sources.

Tip #2: Visit school with your child.  Make a note of important dates, especially before-school orientations and back-to-school nights.  Plan to visit the school with your child. Meeting the teacher, locating classrooms, locker, lunchroom, etc., will help ease your child’s anxiety. Many schools have “Open House” the Friday before school starts. If not, call and schedule a tour before school starts. Take pictures of the building, hallways, classrooms, etc.  You can use them to create a social story or just to review.

Tip #3: Set up your house for school.  Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes. Set up routines for homework, school papers, etc.  Do this ahead of time, so the first day is smooth. Freeze a few dinners in advance or plan something easy. Clear your work schedule if possible and avoid business trips and stressful meetings for the first week. Anything you can do ahead of time to make the week go well is worth it!

Tip #4: Contact your teachers and school personnel.  Let the teachers know that you are interested in getting regular feedback on how and what your child is doing in school. Find out how the teachers like to communicate with parents (notes, e-mail, or phone calls). 

Tip #5: Keep a positive attitude!   Despite your best efforts, not everything always goes as planned.  There will be bumps in the road.  But keeping your head up and putting things in perspective will help keep you sane. This is a long road, and your ability to advocate without burning bridges is essential!

Written by Parents for Parents for the Howard County Autism Society

When the Bus Stops Coming . . . then what?

As parents of children who have IEPs, it feels like we are always thinking about what’s next—next IEP, next placement, next school, next teacher/team. . . . But do we think about those nexts without thinking about the bigger NEXT. What happens at age 18 or 21, when the bus stops coming? Is there life after high school?

Rationally we know there is but thinking about that bigger NEXT makes our head (and heart) hurt. What will my child do next?  Is college a possibility?  What about the supports that got him/her through high school? Can he live on campus? What about the world of work?  Is there an employer who will hire my child? And hire him for what? What job would be of interest? What is he ready to do? It can feel like there are more questions than there are answers. . . .

Plan, plan, plan. And the motto, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” couldn’t be more true! 

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Always start with other parents.  Talk to as many as you can who’ve been through it or are going through the same thing. Parents always have the best advice about what has worked and what hasn’t.  As we know, there’s what should be, what’s on paper, and what really is.  Parents are willing to share the ‘real deal’ and can help guide you. 

Learn as much as you can about what’s available. Do not rely on “the system” or “the experts” to know and guide you. The adult service world is incredibly complicated. Many people who work for various state agencies are not familiar with the other agencies, much less other departments within their own agency! So what’s a parent to do? Attend events and workshops. Search the internet.  Read as much as you can about what agencies do what. Become an informed consumer. 

Attend the HCPSS Transition Workshop Series. Each year, the series features a wide variety of topics that help you find your way.

Start early! Earlier than you think you should. IDEA dictates that transition planning should begin at age 14. That should be more than just a box check at your annual IEP. It’s a clue to parents to start thinking about the future. In middle school, should you know what job your child will have at 21? No, but the sooner you start the process of thinking about the future, the less daunting it is. 

Begin to think about your child in a different way. Try to think about him or her as an independent adult. What can you do now, at home and school, to foster that independence? Begin to build  independence skills in everyday activities, such as chores at home, money management, talking to the doctor, and ordering from the menu. Stop thinking: “there’s no way he can make his own bed  everyday!” The truth is, with some effort on our parts as parents, they will learn eventually. 

Presume competence!!! We want our teachers to presume competence, but do we always practice what we preach? Are we giving our kids time to learn new skills in the protected environments that school and home can provide? We’ve been to all the Paula Kluth workshops, and we always turn to the person next to us and say “if only the teachers could hear this message.”  But we need to be reminded of it all the time, as well. Can my child come in the house from the bus without me opening the door? I didn’t know until I tried it once. After telling the bus driver what we were doing, I watched from behind a curtain to see what would happen. Funny thing, he just walked in, put his back pack away, and got a snack.  All without me. A really proud moment, soon followed by the guilt of thinking about what else he can do if I let him. Had I presumed competence about him in different areas of his life?  The cold hard fact was no, I hadn’t. 

All this begins with a vision. Future planning is tough. It’s not easy to get through today sometimes, much less plan for 4 or 8 years in the future. Our kids can change so much, its hard to say what they can do so far in the future.  Remember this is a journey. It won’t happen overnight. Start wherever your family is, and begin there.

Written by Parents for Parents for the Howard County Autism Society

Preparing for the Annual IEP: Parent Tips

It’s spring and it’s the magical time of year when many of us have IEP meetings. Even if an annual IEP isn’t scheduled, many times there are spring meetings to plan for the next school year. Most of us focus on the IEP goals and objectives at these meetings, but what about all those other sections? Are they as important?

YES! As parents, you should get a draft IEP (and any supporting documents) home five days before an IEP meeting. Use that time to review not only the goals and objectives, but the other sections of the IEP as well.   Before you even get to the goals and objectives section, you pass two important sections, “Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance,” and “Special Considerations and Accommodations.” These two sections contain valuable information about your child. We often skim over these areas. Don’t overlook the value of these sections! 

Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance

The Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance is a statement that gives clear, objective information about your child’s abilities.  It should include information about academic progress, social skills, study skills, etc. Successful teaching strategies for your child should be evident from the Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance statement.

A great thing for parents to do is write your own “Present Level of Achievement” document.  Describe how you see your child at home.  How does he learn new things at home? Does she socialize? What activities is he involved with outside of school?  How does he react to change in schedule at home? This exercise helps you focus on an overall picture of your child. You’ll be in a better position to talk about your child’s learning styles and needs. Does your document on achievement match the school’s? If it does, great, you’re on the same page. If not, it could be that your child acts very differently at home than school. That’s ok, but it is worth talking about. Are there different expectations?  Do you implement different behavior plans or rewards? Is one more effective than another? These are great conversations to have with your team.

Special Considerations and Accommodations

The next important section is the Special Considerations and Accommodations (supplementary aides and services).  It follows that if you describe your child well in the Present Levels section, then you need to talk about what accommodations your child needs as a result of that description. This section details what accommodations and what modifications to materials, curriculum, and standardized testing are necessary. A discussion of communication and assistive technology (AT) is required. Any student with an IEP may benefit from supplementary aides and services. This section, though critical, is often overlooked and can be the difference between participating in general education versus a more restrictive environment. 

But how does a parent know what accommodations are available for his or her child? It’s one thing to say “whatever a student needs,” but what does that really mean?  Are there things that would benefit your child that you are not aware of it? We think of the usual-preferential seating and extra test time, but there may be others. It’s helpful to read through the accommodations manual available from the Maryland State Department of Education website. (visit the Accommodations and Modifications section!) 

Keep in mind that you don’t just pile on accommodations for the sake of accommodations. They should be based on current needs and data. More is not always a good thing. This happens frequently during a change in schools, especially elementary to middle, and middle to high. There is a tendency to pile on the accommodations to help make things smooth. Be sure to keep the accommodations age  appropriate—no more Elmo picture schedules on the desk in middle school. A picture schedule using sports teams taped inside an agenda book is more appropriate to use. 

None of this means goals and objectives are not important. They are.  They should be measurable, achievable in one year, and based on grade level curriculum. But just like with accommodations, more isn’t always better. A team can only work on so many objectives at a time. You can always add objectives or goals later if they the current ones are met.  

Written by Parents for Parents for the Howard County Autism Society

 

 

Middle School–Tips for the Transition

The tender ages of 11 to 13 may seem anything but tender, especially at the beginning of the school year. Instead, the middle school child is an unstable mixture of tantrums and drama, anxiety of embarrassment, and contradictions of wanting Mom and Dad nearby yet resisting help/support/interest of any degree. These are the joys of the middle school years: the huge transition from the younger dependent child to a budding, independent adult. The challenge for the parent and child alike is that, during these three years, it is difficult to guess on any given day where that child may stand along the spectrum of the transition.

A middle school child tries on the persona of an emerging adult, only to become fearful and race back to the comforts of younger childhood until he or she becomes ready to sample adulthood again. In theory, it is a wonderfully-designed process of stepping forward and backward while sampling new stages of growth. In reality, the process is both intoxicating and absolutely exhausting. Parents need to set firm limits to shield the child from unsuspecting dangers when they attempt to reach too far into adulthood. At the same time, they need to comfort the child’s fears when it all becomes too overwhelming. The parents’ ultimate reward is watching their child discover the person he or she is developing into.

During all of this activity, these children attend school and are expected to master a significant amount of material. There are many steps – some great and some small – a parent can take to help a child succeed during that first year in middle school. By remembering the developing stage of your child, the process can be made easier. But consider yourself forewarned as you enter the blasting zone otherwise known as the “Middle School Years!”

Before the school year even starts, take advantage of “Jump Start” or “Open House” opportunities to introduce your child to all that awaits in middle school. Walking down the hallways, seeing the new teachers, being in the gymnasium and cafeteria — and doing so with other kids they know — provide a great comfort to an anxious child. Most often, students receive schedules, get locker assignments, buy gym uniforms and start to become more familiar with their new school. This is a great time to introduce yourself not only to the team of teachers, but parents of fellow classmates since most middle schools are feeder schools to a number of area elementary schools. Many students will be meeting each other for the first time and forming new friendships, and their parents can quickly become influential in the life of your child.

If your child has a 504/IEP/learning plan, contact the guidance counselor assigned to your child’s grade level to share any concerns you may have. This counselor is responsible for reviewing the students’ learning plans with teachers. Rather than one elementary school teacher, your middle school student will now work with a small team of teachers, changing classrooms for each subject. These teachers work closely together, share observations, and offer suggestions for increased success for the entire team of students. Some unique learning situations require more communication with teachers than a written plan alone, and sometimes meeting with the team of teachers near the beginning of the school year may prove helpful. These meetings allow a parent to explain the issues in greater detail, to illustrate how a team approach between school and home offers the best chance for success, by offering methods that have been successful in past years, and troubleshooting areas of concerns in the middle school dynamic. Cultivate a team commitment to maintain open communication all school year long through additional meetings, exchanging notes and using online resources to email concerns.

Once school has started, identify small ways to help guide your middle schooler without stifling budding independence. Tape a copy of the schedule on the front of the binder or homework pad and make sure your child understands how the schedules change from day to day. Most schools have a sophisticated system of rotating periods to prevent the typical “early afternoon burnout” from affecting the same subject. Make sure your child can read the schedule rotation, and feels comfortable approaching new teachers should it become confusing. Taking concerns to school personnel is a student’s first step towards developing the vital tool of self-advocacy.

Organization takes on greater importance with seven periods’ worth of papers and study needs. Your child’s team of teachers will probably determine one preferred organization method for all students, and instruct that method. But no two individuals learn the same, and so too organizational needs may vary. The school may suggest one large binder, but your child may need individual spiral notebooks to help streamline his or her focus during class or when studying. A parent knows what truly is best for his or her child, and some adjustments may need to be made. It is best to discuss these concerns with the team to determine the best method for your child to be successful during the school year.

The actual school work can bring about a new level of discovery. Science comes to life through chemistry and physics experiments. Art projects might jump off the drawing pad and become a mural on a portion of the hallway. Social studies coursework broadens community borders and increases awareness of a global society. Homework and projects that accompany these new discoveries can be exciting, and overwhelming. Guiding the completion of such work requires a distant-closeness only perfected by middle school parents. Your child will insist he or she is grown up enough to complete the work independently, but really needs your presence in the room until everything is done. A backpack may not demand that you personally go through it each day, but you may need to remind your child each morning to do so. Your son or daughter may be great about stopping at the locker between classes to exchange needed materials, but you may need to send in a grocery bag or two each week to help remind them to clean out additional papers and items that gather weekly. It may be helpful to offer to read over homework sheets, but instead your child prefers to read them to you. It’s the gentle guidance of doing it together — and responding with appropriate assistance — that helps bring about the greatest achievement for your middle schooler.

The development of the adolescent brain proves that while children between the ages of eleven and thirteen are capable of more independent thinking and work, they still need as much parental attention and guidance as a toddler at this stage of development. Struggles for independence at the middle school level will echo those seen ten years ago. Children are learning to problem solve, think critically, plan and control impulses, and stand on their own two feet. At times they will stumble and want a nearby parent to pick them up and hug them. Other times they will scream at the first hint of assistance, instead picking themselves up and trying again on their own. On the surface, it may seem a bit different tackling middle school concerns, but underneath it is all part of the process of growing up.

Written by Parents to Parents for the Howard County Autism Society