The hallways are crowded. Lockers are lined with chatty students and the cafeteria is serving what may or may not be food. Where will you fit in? The homework is demanding. Your teachers have high expectations and you may be unsure about how to meet them. Would they understand? As you’ve heard, high school’s tough.
But I’ll let you in on a little secret: you will survive. As a soon-to-be graduate, I’ll tell you what you need to know. I’ve come a long way since freshman year and the road wasn’t easy, but I’ve become a stronger person. You can have the same success. So, where do I start?
Right off the bat, establish a good relationship with them. Understand how they run the classroom and what they expect of you. If you want help, they’ll give it! (Trust me, if they didn’t want to help you do well, they wouldn’t be teachers.) But you’ll have to ask for it. They can’t read your mind, so if you’re having trouble with homework and classwork, let them know. Sometimes it’s intimidating to have to approach them, but if you’re nervous about it, try emailing them first. Express any difficulties you’re having and ask questions. Remind them of your IEP (all your teachers should have a copy, but they may not have had time to read through it yet). Attend extra help and participate in class – if it’s too daunting, just give it a whirl! It gets easier the more you try. What’s the worst that can happen?
Homework, Tests, and Studying
Always, always, always write down homework assignments, test dates, and deadlines. Keep an agenda and be organized. Before you leave for dismissal make sure you have the handouts and books you’ll need to do your homework. Plan ahead. Make a to-do list and prioritize. Consider what needs to be done and how long it will take. Break down assignments into steps. As for studying, the possibilities are endless! Try making flashcards, playing review games, re-reading your notes, and doing practice problems – whatever works best for you and helps you do well. Start studying ahead of time so if any questions come up, you can ask your teacher in extra help.
Sometimes they’re hard to come by, but other times it’s as easy as turning to the person next to you and asking about their weekend. Maybe compliment them and ask what they think of the lesson. Even if the subject material is really tough, they might feel the same way and you will share something in common. Having a conversation about something school-related is always a good starting point. Exchange phone numbers. Try to establish a mutual friendship; take turns initiating conversation, let them talk about themselves (it’s their best subject!), and maybe arrange a get-together after school. Remember: Not all friendships work out, but if you can find someone that enjoys company and makes you happy, they’re worth sticking with.
When it comes to choosing your courses, there’s a lot to consider. Do you want take NY Regents-level courses or accelerated courses? Are you considering an AP course? Will you have resource room and/or speech services? Do you have a lunch period? Answer these questions for yourself and discuss possibilities with a parent or your guidance counselor. Ask about the pros and cons. Put effort into researching the courses available. Sometimes the best feedback comes from someone who’s already taken the class. What did they like/dislike about it? What challenges did they face? Is the teacher any good? And remember if they had a tough time and didn’t really like the class, it doesn’t mean your experience will be the same way. You might enjoy it! You know yourself best.
In high school it’s very important to take care of yourself. That means brushing your teeth, washing your face, taking a shower every day, wearing clean clothes, changing out of your gym clothes, using deodorant, etc. Have a routine. Lay out your clothes the night before so you’re not rushing in the morning trying to get ready. If you often forget to brush your teeth, maybe brush your teeth in the shower (it sounds weird, but if works for you, you can get two things done at the same time). If you have clothes lying around on your bedroom floor, don’t use your nose as your best judgment. Throw them in the laundry! You’ll feel clean and people will be more likely to talk to you.
After school activities is your place to reach out and meet new people. You’ll be able to connect with your classmates that have similar interests to you. I’m sure they’ll be welcoming, too. Find out what clubs your school has and when they meet. Try a variety of activities and see which one(s) work for you. Maybe sports? Key club? Newspaper? There are so many, but pick one or two you want to keep up with. Keep it simple and don’t overload your schedule. If you have no idea which club or activity you want to try, ask a classmate about which ones appeal to them. Suggest attending a club meeting with them. If you’re not ready for that yet, don’t worry about it. Start small by asking someone you know. Do you have a sibling in the school? A cousin? A teacher you like? Ask them about extracurricular activities and you’ll be on your way.
(groaning) “Do I really have to write another essay on To Kill a Mockingbird?” Don’t look at it that way! With every new task, you have to approach the assignment differently. Yes, you should still brainstorm and outline and draft and edit, but you should change your mentality. Have a positive outlook and make it interesting for yourself. Think outside the box. Use your voice in your writing, not one of a Shakespearean linguist (unless that’s really how you write). If you’re asked to support or refute a position, try refuting it. Write about what you believe in, not what your teacher does or what you think they’d like to read. Write about what you know and relate personal experiences to the prompt. Dare to incorporate humor. Get out what you want to say and worry about how to say it later. Have someone help you edit. If you’re happy with your essay, that’s great. If you’re not, fix it so you are. See, I didn’t think this at first, but believe me when I say this it’s possible to have fun writing an essay. As long as it’s not a DBQ (Document Based Question). Those are the worst.
Now I know I couldn’t tell you everything about high school in this article (trust me, I wish I could!), but a lot of it is stuff you learn along the way. You figure out a lot of things in high school, whether it be about yourself, your relationship with others, who your real friends are, or how much you despise macroeconomics. I ask you to stay true to yourself and find what you enjoy and who you can spend time with. If you do the best you can and realize all that you’re capable of in these four years, you will excel in high school and that success will carry you into adulthood.
I wish you all the best!
NOTE: For information on transitioning from high school and the Summary of Performance (SOP) Student Exit Summary requirements, go to our website and click on: www.ahany.org/re_trans.htm.
Grace Barrett-Snyder has been an intern at the AHA offices twice weekly for the 2011-2012 school year through a program at her high school. The Senior Experience Internship Program is a course that combines 12th grade English and social studies curricula and provides students with the opportunity to explore a variety of career options through out-of-school internships. This internship is a particularly good fit because Grace was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in elementary school. Because Grace is so able in so many areas, she is part of the AHA team, helping with our many projects. She writes beautifully, helping with publications and AHA eNews; creating professional and creative artwork as well as having a side business of designing sneakers; created the Save-The-Date postcard for our annual fundraiser; and offered some great suggestions to the committee. She attended our fall conference where she had been a teen panelist and wrote a blog entry. She continues to write excellent blog entrees which get great feedback from the public (read them at: http://ahany.org/blog/). It has been special to all of us to experience her senior year, her humor, contagious smile and her all around terrificness! We will miss her next year, but she will continue to be part of our team.
This article was originally published in the spring 2012 issue of Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association’s (AHA) publication On The Spectrum.