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Middle school is an awkward time. Changing bodies, changing minds, learning how to navigate friendships and relationships in a new way. Middle school is a time of many transitions, and if you’ve ever stepped into a middle school you’ll see children in varying degrees of maturity, you will smell more obnoxiously overused body spray than you care to smell, and it will be LOUD. Middle school children are learning that they have an opinion to express, and they do not express it quietly.
Middle school was also the age that I started hating school. I have always and will always love to learn, but middle school killed any desire for me to do so in a structured environment with grades.
Complete change of classroom format
Transitions are difficult for people with ADHD. That means any time there is a change of pace like moving from one task to another, from one room to another, from one environment to another takes more time for us to adjust to. In middle school, you are thrown into a world that is chock full of transitions. You head into several different classrooms. There are many different teachers with many different standards and rules for their classroom. There is a change in subject which they are used to, but in combination with moving from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher, this adjustment can be difficult to perform, especially the 5+ times per day that many middle schoolers have to adjust.
From one desk to a locker
As if all this movement wasn’t enough to deal with, you have this other factor in the sense that you have a locker for the first time in many middle schools. In elementary school, you have one desk in one room that you sit in all the time. All your things are in the room, you merely need to get them. In middle school, you have been in many different classrooms, and you have to organize a locker. This is NOT an easy task for the ADHD mind, especially an undiagnosed mind.
The beginning of puberty means a flood of hormones for the brain. As that brain is adjusting to the hormonal fluctuations, the symptoms of ADHD can worsen. Body changes can mean a change in the way we have to dress our bodies, which can cause sensory issues, and emotional issues. Those things can all form another obstacle to the ADHD child trying to sort through so many other changes.
This can’t be emphasized enough: bullying happens in every level of school, but in middle school, it can take a particularly sinister turn. With children taking more responsibility for their time and making more transitions during the day, there is more time for children to be ostracized, criticized, and harmed. It is crucial for teachers and parents to be dialed into these patterns and the moods of these young minds. Being able to pick up on the signs of a student in distress could save their lives.
You’ve heard me talk at length about how it felt to live my entire life with ADHD, but in middle school, my ADHD was put on full display. For the first time, my issues with time management, organization, and attention became so obvious I could not hide them. To be honest, before middle school I didn’t even know those issues existed. I knew I was messy, but I had no idea I would find it so difficult to get to class. I had no idea how my changing emotions would make it so difficult to handle the fluctuations of each teacher and each mood versus being with one teacher all day as I had been used to. When those symptoms started to flare up, I did not look outward for reasons, I looked inward. I was told that I wasn’t trying hard enough, and if the people in my life who knew better believed that, it had to be true, right? My self-esteem crumbled. The beginning of me dealing with anxiety and depression has its roots in those middle school days.
With an ADHD assessment, I could have had assistance with these transitions. I would have had accommodations for the areas I struggled in. I could have had a chance to educate myself on the way my brain works. Right there in middle school, I could have laid the foundation for a lifetime of healthy mental health habits. Instead, I would flounder on for many more years until I was able to learn the reasons I struggled so much. If you suspect your child is living with undiagnosed ADHD, please don’t leave them wondering if they are bad or lazy. Don’t let them believe their hardest try isn’t good enough. Get them assessed.
How to help the ADHD middle schooler in your life
As you know, middle schoolers are going through a tough time. You may be wondering how to help the middle schooler in your life. A great way to begin is by simply asking them what they need help with. A lot of times with adults, help comes in the form of a lecture. Let them know you actually want to help them.
Be a sounding board – There are many frustrations coming in the middle school transition. Don’t just demand performance from the child in your life, come prepared to listen to them.
Don’t withdraw your support – many people think just because a child has reached middle school age that they are prepared for the challenges middle school brings. Do not withdraw all supports from your child, rather give them space by allowing them to learn at their own pace. Age and ability are not always perfectly matched.
Monitor social media and moods carefully – Kids hide the signs of bullying so well. It is up to us as adults to do all we can to recognize when bullying is happening and try to let kids know they can come to us with anything.
Like any life transition, it will take adjustment, but if you are aware you can help your middle school-aged child transition into this new way of learning.
Until next time,