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Challenges facing special ed students starting high school

Like many great middle schoolers, special education students fear ridicule and embarrassment from teachers and peers alike when they start high school.  The difference for them however is that the stakes are much higher starting off high school on the right foot.  See below to read more about this topic.

Transition issues for special needs students entering high school 

by Robert Hoyt, Ph.D

Like a great many middle schoolers, special education students fear ridicule and embarrassment from teachers and peers alike when they start secondary school.  The difference for them is that the stakes are much higher for them starting off high school on the right foot.

The first challenge for these students is that they tend to be much more afraid of standing out as  “dummies” if they ask teachers for help in learning the lay of the land in high school.    The best solution is to assign them to a mentoring program to get peer support for addressing their fears and concerns.  Peer mentoring is gaining increased popularity for regular education students as well, and some schools are having regular students mentor special ed students.  Since some special ed ninth graders protect themselves by preferring to be called “lazy” than “stupid,” I  prefer the model  where successful special ed students do the mentoring because they  provide more realistic inspiration that tolerating the frustration of working extra hard on homework and seeking extra help really  pays off.    Once they make an adjustment to the school work and high school social milieu, they will be ready to form the kind of bond with their teachers that they will need to rise to the challenge of the increased academic demands of high school.

It is unclear how long a structured mentoring program should continue after that first semester of high school; but clearly, informal mentoring continuing well beyond that first few months or continued high attendance in formal programs would indicate that these programs are well worth the effort.

The second challenge is that their parents need to be actively involved by the school so that their own anxieties will not make things even harder for their child.   The solution is give the parents a single point of contact who will communicate with them daily if necessary on how they can effectively support their child’s adjustment. Proper guidance from a school employee  affiliated with the special education program (e.g., teachers, school psychologists or counselors, speech occupational, or physical therapists)   can help parents arrive at the best way to handle their particular child’s adjustment. Should the parents insist on a set number of hours for homework and make sure the work was completed, or should they give their child more breathing room during this adjustment period?   While there is of course no one right answer to questions of this kind, parents who have established a trusting relationship with their school contact are much more likely to be effective at helping their son or daughter’s successfully adjust to  secondary school.

A special needs student successful adjustment in the first semester of high school does not guarantee long-term success, but there is no doubt that it dramatically improves their prospects.

Dr. Hoyt is a clinical psychologist with a M.A. in learning disabilities.  He is also the owner of Allied Health Professionals LLC, a staffing agency that places LD teachers as well as speech, occupational and physical therapists in schools throughout greater Chicago.

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