Tips for starting high school with autism
Change, as mentioned in previous articles, is not an easy thing for people with autism to deal with in their lives. I talk about what the beginning of high school was like for me and offer tips for how people on the spectrum who enter high school can manage it well. With COVID-19 restrictions, things might be different this year, but now that many people are fully vaccinated, people may be more comfortable with doing regular routines than they were a year ago.
High school may be overwhelming at first, or it might feel like a camp.
After attending the same elementary school for six years before high school, entering high school felt like a camp. Part of this may be because the first week of school had super hot weather when I started grade nine in 2007. Another factor was that "Welcome Week activities" had games that resemble what a camp would offer.
I was excited for the first day to the point that I barely got any sleep last night. Therefore, I wasn't in a good mood that day. That being said, I met some approachable enough people that the first day would be easy for me, even at its toughest parts. I also remember being late for my English class on my first day because I stopped at my locker in between classes. After that occasion, I was never late for that class for the rest of the year (My high school had desemestered "half" classes for grade nine English and Math as well as the school's Transition/Essential program, which I was in during grade nine and 10).
Approach peers who appear friendly.
As hard as it, unfortunately, can be to meet people who aren't judgmental in these years, almost every class or workplace, in my experience, has at least some friendly faces. These people may tolerate any differences you have more. I made the mistake of not approaching too many people in high school. Therefore, I was isolated for a huge chunk of the period. I got better at this in my college and workplace years, though.
Also, pay close attention to whether people talk about your interests as well. I've observed that no matter how "different" one is, people may enjoy talking to you if you have common interests. Joining extracurricular activities would be another thing I suggest you do because of common interests. I made the mistake of not doing so much. The only reason why I didn't do many extracurricular activities in high school was that I didn't want to travel far away from my family like many of these clubs and teams would do.
Understand situations you might be in and list best and worst-case scenarios.
Think about situations you might be in during high school that didn't happen or rarely occurred in elementary school. Examples might include taking part in a manufacturing course or paying for food in the cafeteria. Let's practice listing these examples here:
Best-case scenario: I craft something impressive with the support of my teacher.
Worst-case scenario: I do poorly and the teacher needs to remind me of safety rules.
Paying for food in the cafeteria:
Best-case scenario: I get along with the cafeteria staff and other people lining up for their food.
Worst-case scenario: I get into an argument with a staff member or someone in line.
If these worst-case scenarios happen, think about how you would handle them. Also, be aware that high schools have numerous staff who will root for your well-being—more on that below. Talk to any you trust when you face worst-case scenarios.
Know all of the services you can access.
Whether it is an administrator, a special education resource teacher, a guidance counsellor, a social worker, or one of your current or even past teachers, know that many of these people don't want you to have a terrible high school experience. If things get extremely overwhelming, as they can in high school, remember that these people are often only rooms or emails away and will advise you on how to handle certain situations.
I took frequent advantage of these opportunities when I felt I needed to look at tough situations differently but struggled to do so independently. In addition, I made some good connections I otherwise wouldn't have made if it weren't for these supports.
Talk to a teacher about your struggles and possible accommodations.
If there is a particular course or a piece of work in it you especially struggle with, talk to a teacher about the struggles and see if you can come up with strategies so that both parties will be satisfied. For example, if you get 50 per cent on a test, talk to the teacher about meeting them during your lunch or after school hours so they can prepare you well for the next test. I did this with a couple of courses after not doing well on one or two tests.
Visit your elementary school.
If you had teachers in elementary school that you especially clicked with well, you can visit them to share your accomplishments or ask for advice. Many teachers, through my experience, like keeping up with former students. This may also help you know that the change to high school does not mean elementary school is permanently away from your life. I would do this frequently in grade nine.
High school, like anything new in life, can be scary. However, with the right skills, preparation and support, you can have a good time. Lots of people want you to be successful and will be willing to play a part in making you so.
You may also like: Autism: Getting ready for back to elementary school