Middle School Advice for Exec Dysfunctional Kid with Anxiety

What strategies have families used to help kids with executive dysfunction and/or anxiety manage the transition from elementary to a big middle school, with 7 different teachers and classrooms per day, and increased responsibilities? Or what private middle schools are recommended for a more "gentle" middle school experience (such as not changing classes every hour, limited homework policy, etc.)? Thanks in advance.

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Hi there - you might want to check out Raskob Institute. Our son who was diagnosed with ADD in 3rd grade just graduated middle school and is now on to high school! Class sizes are very small and they have to tools and teachers to work with different learning challenges. There are 2 teachers in every classroom, one of them a special ed teacher. Definitely a very gently experience even though they still change class rooms. However homework is very limited and with the home work club in place it was a very manageable experience. Wishing you good luck in your search! 

This is a tough one.  I was in a similar situation with my child a number of years ago, although my child also has ADHD.  I tried many, many, different strategies.  Some worked, some worked for a while, some didn't work at all.  And, different kids respond differently to the various strategies, a lot has to do with temperament of both child and those supporting the child.  In general, it is very difficult to get solid support for EF challenges. A couple of suggestions:

Start by reading "Smart but Scattered". 

If you have not yet had a neuro-educational assessment with recommendations done, consider doing so with a reputable, independent agency.  In my experience, this is much better than having the school assess.  Morrissey-Compton on the Peninsula is excellent.  I am not familiar with such resources in the East Bay, but if you call M-C they might be able to make a referral.

On the home front: Put in place systems to support your child.  Get ideas from the assessment report recommendations, the book I suggested, and other sources you trust.  Consider finding a good academic coach (different than a tutor who typically addresses academic subject content) if you think your child will resist working with you or if you are not up to or able to take on the task.

Get a good therapist involved, and if it makes sense, consider anti-anxiety medication.  As kids get older, anxiety can present as anger, often intense anger, particularly if your child is a boy.  If your child is very bright, it's important to find someone who is knowledgeable of both anxiety and giftedness - they often go hand-in-hand.

On the school front: Once you have the assessment report and recommendations, and if your child is settled in middle school and you are seeing problems, or the teacher(s) is/are noticing problems, consider putting the wheels in motion with the school to get accommodations.  Start by requesting an SST (Student Study Team) meeting.  Do your research on 504 and IEP plans.  Different schools are more or less receptive to 504 and IEP plans.  Decide if it makes sense for your child given your child's school.  Even though my child was no where near meeting potential, the school was reluctant to grant an IEP because my child hadn't failed a grade and was managing to just get by year to year.  Other schools are more supportive of bright but struggling students.

Take care of yourself, you may be in this for a long haul.  Hopefully your path will be straight-forward.  Mine has been very difficult.  After all else has failed, my teenager has moved to a boarding school that has a strong program in place to support such types of students.  We are hopeful.

Good luck on your journey.

My situation is similar to the long response you received on 9/4, with the exception that my child has major depressive disorder and social phobia (anxiety). It wasn't until I paid for a neuropsych by East Bay Family Institute, http://eastbayfamilyinstitute.com, that she was properly diagnosed. The consultation with the testing technician was invaluable! After being hospitalized for severe depression the school finally agreed to assess her. The school district psychologist reached the same conclusions that East Bay Family Institute had reached. Then my child was finally given an IEP (Individualized Education Program). My child is finally thriving and getting the resources and accommodations she needs to excel.

Best of luck to you.

My daughter is a 7th Grader at The Berkeley School (TBS), and I cannot recommend TBS's Middle School program highly enough - for any student. The school-wide philosophy recognizing and celebrating diversity of all kinds - including neurodiversity - is deeply embedded in the Middle School program at TBS, and is a cornerstone of the pedagogical approach in its classrooms. The learning environment is both rigorous and manageable for students. Teachers pay close attention to every student's needs as learners, and provide individualized attention accordingly. The learning specialists at TBS provide additional bridges to learning when necessary - something which my daughter has benefitted from for nearly every one of the 10 years she has been a student at the school. 

Please come and see if TBS might be a good fit for your child. I know that a visit to the campus will immediately reflect what our children all feel there: a sense of intimacy, ownership, community and pride in themselves as learners. 

I had these same concerns for my son (just starting 8th grade this year) who has similar issues. We were also concerned about the potential for slipping through the cracks without anyone to help our son navigate that kind of environment. As we started to feel the pressure to be more organized/independent and socially/environment savvy in 5th grade  (which frankly started feeling like a whole family issue rather than just one for my son), we realized that if there was one time to invest in developing the needed skills, the middle school years are the time and place. A friend recommended The Berkeley School --which I swear is the East Bay's best kept secret-- and it has been the one thing that has made our lives easier. I had always been a "my kids are going to public school!" advocate and had never even considered private school but realized that our district just didn't have the capacity (and/or expertise?) to have a whole child focus and that we really needed a skilled school team that understood--and could support the needs of--the nebulous area of executive functioning, etc. In thinking about private schools, we were concerned about finding a balance between strong academics, the social/emotional support, not too big/small, and not feeling like we were the middle class folk in a universe of different values/resources. 

We definitely found the right balance at TBS. From the orientation onward, TBS emphasized that its staff prioritized supporting the executive functioning needs of its middle schoolers (without singling out it in any way) and in the three years that we have been there, has lived up to that mission. I was struck by your inclusion of the word "gentle" in your question because that is usually the word that I use to describe our TBS experience. (We have since also moved our other child over to the TBS elementary school). And not meant in a coddling sense but rather the school's approach to supporting the whole child. When I am at the school, it feels gentle. It feels calm. It feels like thoughtful effort goes into everything. And the teachers are super dialed in to the kids. I have seen my son blossom in ways I never could have imagined (seriously!). If I could do my own middle school experience over, I would want to be there. The academics are strong yet the school is down to earth.

Looking back at our earlier (read: more stressful) years, I invested in every strategy, book, therapist/specialist, and constant communication with teachers but the ROI was not there. At TBS, they want to know what kind of support we want/need. I actually can just drop my kids off without worry--which, for those of us who have a more complicated family experience, is not just refreshing, it is actually sanity saving--because I know that the entire staff is committed to helping my kid navigate the day and build the skills to navigate the future. I would definitely recommend checking out The Berkeley School to see if it's a fit. When we were looking, we liked Prospect Sierra too but felt TBS was a better match.

I want to chime in about private middle school vs. public middle school for a kid with learning differences. My son with severe ADD (no hyperactivity but serious attention deficit including executive function) was not accepted at any of the private middle schools we applied to, including some of those recommended to you. So he instead attended a Berkeley public middle school, Willard, armed with a 504 plan as recommended by his developmental pediatrician. He had an absolutely wonderful experience.  Even though he was transitioning from a tiny K-6 private school, and he knew almost no one at the new middle school, he adjusted quickly and had a surge in learning and academic skills during his two years there. Almost all of his teachers were very receptive to the idea of learning differences and supportive of him as well as all the kids, de-emphasizing busy work and instead focusing on whether they were learning the material. Because of the much larger student body, my child was able to find like-minded souls who he has remained friends with into high school. And by the way, in 6th grade most public middle schools do not have multiple teachers with multiple classrooms.  At least in Berkeley and Oakland (and probably others) 6th graders have only 2 teachers and are fairly isolated from the 7th and 8th graders, with the intention of transitioning them from elementary school to middle school.

Good luck! Middle school can be fun!