At a glance
Middle-schoolers travel between classes on their own and store their books in lockers.
Middle-schoolers usually have a different teacher for each subject.
Students in middle school face more social pressure and often worry about their ability to fit in and make friends.
The transition from grade school to middle school can be tough for any tween. Academic expectations and social interactions increase. And some of these changes can create unique challenges for kids with learning and thinking differences. Here’s a closer look at some of the challenges kids face in middle school.
Different classroom and school structure
One of the biggest challenges for middle-schoolers is adjusting to a new learning environment. The school itself may be larger. There’s also a shift in how classes are held.
In elementary school, kids may have had one or two teachers for core subjects. In middle school, though, the number of teachers may double. It’s not uncommon for kids to have different teachers for science, math, English, and other subjects. They may also have other teachers for special classes (like art, physical education, and music).
Your child may also have to switch classrooms between classes. Navigating a new school can be tough, especially for middle-schoolers with . Consider taking a tour of the school ahead of time. Then you can map out the schedule with the most direct routes from class to class.
Kids will also have to keep track of time and perhaps even get materials from their locker before the next class. For kids who struggle with , these increasing demands on organization and time management skills can be overwhelming.
You can help by asking your child to create a locker organization system. If possible, adding items like shelves and section dividers can solve some of the organization problems. You can also plan out locker stops and indicate them on the schedule.
Explore more ways to teach your middle-schooler organization skills. And discover tips to prepare your child for changes to routine in middle school.
New academic expectations
Not only do middle-schoolers have more teachers, they’re also expected to be more independent learners than in grade school. Kids may be assigned more homework and long-term projects. Knowing how to gather information from reputable sources and present it in their own words is important. And since they’ll have multiple teachers, the amount of homework and projects may not be evenly spread out.
These increased academic requirements require critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. That can be particularly difficult for kids who have trouble with executive function. They may need support in learning how to break big projects into smaller chunks. Board games and video games can be fun ways to build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, too.
New social expectations
Middle school is a time of major social growth. Going from being the oldest students in elementary school to the youngest in middle school can be scary. Your child is expected to be more independent than in grade school. At the same time, kids may deal with cliques or bullies, or worry about being lonely.
Keep in mind that if your child already has trouble picking up on social cues, middle school socializing may be hard. This may be a good time to start discussing social boundaries and secrets with your child. (You may also want to take a look at tips for reducing risky behavior.)
How to help your middle-schooler
If your child has an (IEP) or a , try to meet with the case manager in the spring before middle school starts. That way you can begin building a relationship with someone who understands your child’s challenges.
It may take you some time to get used to having a child in middle school, too. School staff may not try to get to know parents as much as they did in grade school. There may be different rules than there were at your child’s grade school. And policies, like those around tardiness and absences, may be adhered to more strictly.
That’s why it’s so important to stay in contact with your child’s teachers. See an example of an effective email to a teacher. Explore conversation starters to use with teachers. And find ways to talk to your child’s teachers about specific learning and thinking differences.
It may take time for your child to get used to middle school.
Try to visit the school at least once with your child before school starts.
Meet with teachers before school starts or during the first month of school to review your child’s learning needs or IEP.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.