How to Smoothly Transition from Elementary to Middle School

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
03/18/24  8:54 AM PST

The Big Move

My son Charlie just turned twelve, which is amazing and wonderful! It’s also when we hit the runway at the end of our elementary school journey and board a flight to the new destination of middle school. That season of life takes up residency in our minds for a reason. It is tumultuous – a choppy sea of hormones and new classes and people and feelings. But for Charlie, who has cerebral palsy and needs modifications to make his day a success, it offers an extra element of the unknown.

However, the one thing I have learned thus far in our educational journey is to plan ahead, way ahead. So here are a few things I will do to make his transition as easy as possible for him, for me, and for his future IEP team:

  1. Reconnaissance

If possible, request a tour of the new building before school lets out for the summer so that you can get a feel for not just the layout, but also the vibe of the place. Is it quiet or loud in the halls? Are the walls covered in art or more minimalist? How is the accessibility in comparison to your old school when it comes to the cafeteria, hallways, parking lots, and the gym? Of course, you could ask your team all of these things, but it’s nice to scope it our yourself.

  1. Re-Evaluation

I don’t just mean re-evaluate your educational plan. I mean look closely at your adaptive equipment to see if it is appropriate for your new school. Will that stander work in the new space? Does the wheelchair need a different tray in order for your child to be able to sit with other students in the cafeteria? Will the backpack and any other bags like computer cases or speaking device cases fit in the locker? Take an inventory of your child’s items and then when you take that tour of the school, see if they are still workable.

  1. Independence

Middle school is all about embracing independence. This is when students will start to change classes if they haven’t already. There may be study halls and electives and longer periods of unsupervised time. This is where you have to be very honest with yourself and very clear with your team about what your child can and cannot do. If he or she needs an aide for most activities, then make sure that is a priority. The new staff doesn’t know your child yet, but you do and so you must speak up for the level of independence that should be in balance with assistance.

  1. Expect Hiccups

While this isn’t exactly like starting over, in some ways it is. You have the plan recommended by your old school, but it will be implemented by new people with new methods and personalities. It takes a minute to adjust. If your child uses a wheelchair or other adaptive equipment on the bus, it may take the attendants longer to load in the beginning. If your child uses a communication device, remember that it is a language too and everyone is learning it at the same time. Batteries on laptops die. Aides switch at different times during the day. The cafeteria gets crowded. The accessible bathroom is father away. It’s all part of the transition, but as long as everyone is willing and committed to continuing the conversation and working out the wrinkles, then it will get better. It just takes time.

  1. Give Thanks

This is a big one. Thank your old team, if they have done a good job in helping your child get to this big milestone. It truly takes a village. And then, if you find a gem at your child’s new school – someone who meshes well with them, who has patience and enthusiasm, who genuinely loves to help them learn – cheer them on! It’s easy to look for the faults in the system, but it’s just as important to highlight the good.

Change is hard, but it can also be wonderful. If you start to feel squeamish about the leap from elementary to middle school, remember this is a necessary part of growing up for your kid…and also for you.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.
Author of the middle-grade novels:















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