The Transition

School was well underway and the new students, Michelle and Kyle, were beginning to get used to the routine in Room 623. It took a while for them to be comfortable with their daily schedules. Little by little, the children were adjusting to new activities. Sometimes, the activities would be on bean bags while others were to sit at a table.

One of the nice things about the structured for life program was that it included several different grade levels, first through fifth. The mix of ages was great. The first graders often had good role models in the older students. Sometimes though, a younger child was able to help some of the older ones too. Michelle and Kyle were very lucky as there were several older students who liked to help them.

As the weeks turned into months, the teacher was curious on how her students from last year were doing in middle school. Two students, Maria and Brad were now in the sixth grade.

Maria had been a handful as a first grader. She had classic autism and her sensory needs were severe. As a nonverbal child, Maria had gradually learned to communicate through pictures. She could read and make some of her wants and needs clear by a combination of pictures and an augmented communication device. Better communication led to an improvement in Maria’s behavior until about fifth grade.

Then hormones became a huge challenge. Maria’s family learned how to cope with her bodily changes with medication and behavior modifications. Even with that help, Maria still had a limited ability to comprehend the changes that were occurring in her body.

Maria began to exhibit self-abusive behaviors as she was unable to cope with her feelings.

Kyle, on the other hand, had calmed down from being a very anxious little boy in first grade. With intensive speech efforts over the years, he had gradually improved from one word utterances to sentences of eight to ten words. While he did not read at the level of Maria, Kyle could verbally communicate his wants and needs.

Kyle’s socialization skills had also improved which lead to him having friends. In fact, Kyle was excited to move on to middle school to see some of his old buddies that had been Room 623, especially Jack and Matt.

One fall day, the teacher got a call from Kyle’s mom, Nancy. She asked if the teacher would like to receive some recent pictures of her son. The teacher was thrilled. Several photos of the boy followed the conversation. Nancy told the teacher how proud she was of her son. Nancy said it had been hard to let go of Kyle. He was growing up. Kyle didn’t want mom walking him up to his classroom any more. He wanted to go by himself.

The boy looked happy in the pictures and he was. Kyle had blossomed over the years into a beautiful young man who happened to have autism. The teacher reminded Nancy that many colleges are beginning to develop special programs for children like Kyle. The programs are not designed for special needs children to master college level courses.

Instead, they offer opportunities to develop life skills and job preparation beyond the public high school programs. Kyle will most likely be ready for such a program once he reaches 21 years old.

Alice, on the other hand, was struggling with lots of challenges because of the physical changes in her body. Typical of girls, Alice was continuing to physically change in middle school. This time period in her life was a difficult one. Her mother did speak to the teacher and asked for guidance as Maria’s frustration was posing a lot of problems.

The best answer was to have Maria’s doctors find a way to make the girl more comfortable. Fortunately, Maria had a wonderful family. They would make sure that the child’s doctors would find a way to help the girl through this difficult period of time in her life.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at