Parenting a child with mental health struggles like ADHD and autism is a constant challenge. If your child has ADHD or autism, you have been learning the best ways to help your child with his or her unique challenges in any environment. You supported your child in elementary school. You connected the child with aides and resources. Now it is time for middle school.
When puberty hits it adds a new layer of complications to both their personal development and their relationships at school. All the kids are going through changes which make them feel vulnerable.
Children on an autistic spectrum will struggle with the changing social dynamics of middle school. Even children without that issue will be challenged by the dynamics and pressures of middle school.
A child with autism or ADHD is more susceptible to depression as a result of the challenges of middle school and puberty. As a parent you want to maintain vigilance and support your child through this new season of life.
ADHD and autism: 6 ways to support your child in middle school.
Here are six concrete ways to be a support to your child during middle school.
1. Celebrate his or her successes.
No matter how big or small the matter, it is important for middle school aged children to feel successful. With changing bodies and increased academic pressures your child may feel that they are constantly failing at something. Pay attention to their small successes and celebrate them.
For instance, when your child remembers to make their bed or finishes their homework in a timely fashion, offer praise. If your child’s teachers give positive notes during a conference, be sure to pass them along to your child.
It is a major boost to morale when growth or overcoming a challenge is noticed by others. Even simple compliments on their choice of outfit or when they have fun with a friend will make a huge difference in mental health. Make a regular habit of complimenting your child, or just saying you are proud of them.
2. Comfort your child during his or her struggles.
Your child is deeply aware of his or her flaws. It could be a real struggle, such as dyslexia or focus issues, or a perceived one. When your child is dealing with their real challenges with ADHD and autism, it is important to acknowledge the difficulty, then help them work through possible solutions. Find ways of working around the problem while acknowledging their struggle.
Other struggles may be related to how your child perceives himself or herself. If your child feels like they are not fitting in with the kids at school, it can lead to greater issues of depression and body dysmorphia. Pay attention to what seems to cause your child to struggle, then provide comfort and help them reach out for help.
If you find out your child is being bullied or belittled, talk to the teachers and school authorities. Be an advocate for your child, but also teach your child to be an advocate for himself or herself. Remind your child that it is okay to speak up when he or she doesn’t like something.
While it is important to advocate for your child, you also need to give him or her chances to speak up. When your child is struggling they may want to share with you, but not actually want you to do anything. Ask your child what they want from you.
Does he or she prefer a listening ear, ideas to solve the problem, offering to talk to the teacher, or another option? Giving your child the chance to solve the problem themselves an important learning experience for parent and child.
3. Create checklists that make him or her feel successful.
Many middle schools start implementing the use of day planners. It is a practical tool for remembering all the periods and lesson plans. Some children will find it a great help. But a child with autism or ADHD may find it just adds to their challenges. A daily checklist, prepared ahead of time may be more helpful. Meet with your child’s teacher to discuss this option for your child.
Have regular conversations with your child about expectations that you have of them. Putting it in a checklist form where it is easy to find and see eliminates the need for them to remember everything. Coping with an increased load of schoolwork can be challenging to the autistic brain. Checklists can be a huge help to parent, child, and teacher.
With ADHD and autism, you will need to give your child more reminders to complete things than other children. Knowing this ahead of time and preparing for it will help eliminate frustration. The checklist is visible reminder. There are also apps that have been created to help your child with expectations and chore lists, making it a game.
4. Communicate with his or her teachers.
You want to ensure your child has a team of supportive adults. From coaches to counselors, the office staff to homeroom teachers, it is important to maintain communication with your child’s school. While in elementary school they may have had only one primary teacher, middle school introduces periods, lockers, and a diverse set of teachers.
If your child has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), you may have a chance to meet with some or all of the teachers. Figure out the best way to communicate, such as which teachers prefer email and who likes to have advance notices.
While some children may only be in special education classes, others may be able to integrate into the classroom with the appropriate support. Communication with the middle school teachers will help you determine the best fit for your child.
5. Cultivate his or her gifts.
Your child has a unique brain and remarkable skills. This period of their life is a time to start engaging in their passions. From tech-based pursuits to sports skills to artistic endeavors, this is a period of healthy obsessions. Take your child to the library or put them in extra curriculars in which they really want to engage.
A child’s interest in something will wax and wane throughout their middle school years. It is an excellent time to explore different things. Let your child revel in knowledge gained outside of assignments and homework.
6. Connect him or her with God.
Both parent and child will benefit from walking with God. Invite your child to pray with you, and pray in front of them. Read the Bible with your child and let them ask questions about faith. Teaching your child to ask questions about God, and to pray will form a foundation for the future.
Remind your child that God made their brain and body, and loves them for who they are. When your child feels overwhelmed God is there ready to listen to them.
It is also important for you to trust that God is at work in your child. Praying for your child, for the wisdom to support them through this time is essential to your role as a parent.
Christian Counseling for Children
The counselors at our office are here to help you and your child transition to middle school. Schedule an appointment today to build a supportive relationship during this time in your lives. Our office has both individual and family counseling available.
Connecting your child to a counselor now will help them to reach out for help before something becomes a major issue. A counselor may also see things that parents miss.
Parents will also benefit from seeking counseling when raising a child with ADHD or autism. You don’t have to do this alone. Reach out today to find support.
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