At a glance
High school places more emphasis on getting good grades and requires more homework than ever before.
High-schoolers need to manage time well, stay organized, and take good notes.
In high school, self-advocacy becomes more important than ever for kids with learning and thinking differences.
The transition from middle school to high school can be stressful for all teens. Academic expectations increase, and socializing and extracurricular activities become more important, especially if your child is heading to college.
Some of these expectations can create unique obstacles for kids with learning and thinking differences. Here’s a closer look at some of the challenges high-schoolers face.
Bigger school and age differences
One challenge for high-schoolers is adjusting to a new learning environment. The school itself is likely to be larger and have more students than middle school did. While your child may have had practice with switching classrooms between classes in middle school, navigating an even larger school can be tough.
Kids won’t only have to keep track of time and know the best path between classes. They may also have to plan a trip to get materials from their locker. And high schools often use schedules that vary from day to day. For kids who struggle with or , this type of planning and navigation can be overwhelming.
There’s also a shift in class makeup. In middle school, kids often have different teachers for different subjects. But for the most part, they probably were in classes with other students in the same grade. In high school, classes are more likely to have students from a variety of grade levels.
These age differences can be tricky for kids who struggle with social skills or who are less mature than their peers. Kids may be exposed to risky behaviors in ways they weren’t before and feel pressure to fit in.
This can be especially difficult for kids with ADHD. And it can be hard for kids who have trouble following social cues or self-advocating. Teaching kids ways to deal with cliques can help.
Time management and study skills
Staying organized enough to get everything done can also be a struggle in high school. Various learning and thinking differences can cause trouble with time management. But you can help kids learn how to manage tasks to keep themselves on track.
In-class work can be hard for teens who struggle with taking notes. They may not be sure what they need to write down. Or they may struggle to keep up with what the teacher is saying. Specific note-taking strategies can help, along with note-taking apps.
With more work and tests, kids need to have strong study skills. They may have assignments in different classes with the same deadline. But you can help break long-term assignments down into smaller, more manageable pieces. You may also want to consider showing your student how to use a day planner, or explore apps to help with organization.
It may be helpful for kids to learn strategies to study for tests and try studying in ways that complement their unique learning strengths. Consider creating a homework contract if homework battles are an issue.
If your child has an or a , you can work with your child and the team to figure out accommodations that will help. If your child doesn’t get services, you or your child can still ask the teacher if there are any informal supports that would help. That might include teacher’s notes or study guides.
In high school, self-advocacy is a big focus for kids with learning and thinking differences — and not just with peers. As the expectation to be an independent learner grows, kids will need to start playing a bigger role in their education.
And when kids have an IEP, it’s not only a good idea, it’s the law. Kids with IEPs need to start participating in IEP meetings and have input into their transition plan. You can also ask to have self-advocacy goals included in your child’s IEP.
Asking questions, seeking help, and speaking up about their own needs become increasingly important. Kids may be expected to understand and discuss their learning differences and start asking for the accommodations they need.
But that can feel overwhelming for some kids. It’s important to help kids find ways to self-advocate that let them feel comfortable.
Afterschool activities or a part-time job can make staying on top of things even more complicated, especially if your child has challenges with executive function.
Both are great ways to make friends. They’re also a great way for kids to explore their interests and find things they love to do. But because they take up time, jobs and activities can make it hard to get everything else done. For some kids, it’s also a reason to avoid doing schoolwork that’s challenging.
Talk to your child about ways to balance a job and school. If you’re not sure your child is ready for a job, you can begin by working on job readiness skills at home.
More ways to help your high-schooler
If your child has an IEP, make sure there’s a transition plan in place. It’s also a good idea for kids to meet their teachers before school begins.
It may take some time for your child to get used to high school. It may also take some time for you to get used to having a child in high school. The staff may not try to get to know parents as much as you’re used to. There may be different rules than there were at your child’s middle school. And policies around tardiness, electronics use, and absences may be adhered to more strictly.
That’s why it’s important to know how to contact your child’s teachers. Download and fill out a contact sheet, and see an example of an effective email to a teacher. Explore conversation starters to use with teachers. And find ways to talk to teachers about specific learning and thinking differences.
Encourage your teen to have good study habits. You can help keep track of when assignments are due.
Kids in high school need to stay motivated and get their work done on time, even if they’re involved in extracurricular activities.
Learning how to speak up for themselves can build confidence and keep kids from feeling overwhelmed.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.