Transitions are part of everyday life, but they can be difficult for a student with Autism because of their preference of predictability. Yet, with the right supports and modifications in place, a student can easily make a meltdown-free transition. Here are a few strategies you can try. You may find that some work better than others but test them out, and use the ones that work for your child.
1) Use a visual scheduleNot all kids with Autism are visual learners, but many respond well to visual supports. This can help make the environment predictable and decrease your child’s anxiety about what comes next. It can also increase independence, as your child can check their schedule periodically to complete tasks. A visual schedule is a simple list of pictures that describe which activity comes next. Usually these are made with icons, but if you can get pictures of your child doing each activity, it is preferable. Laminate each picture and place them in order each day. Show your child which activity you’re transitioning to when you prompt them to switch activities.
2) Familiarize your child with their new environmentThis can be done by visiting the place where the field trip will occur, showing them a videotape of a new place, or making a social story about a particular transition. You can do this for routine transitions, like going to lunch, P.E, or recess, but also for one-time events like field day. Use as many mediums necessary to prime your child about an upcoming transition. Talk about what will happen during the transition at down time, read the social story if you anticipate it will be a difficult transition, and use videotapes if needed. Give your child as much preparation as possible to learn what comes next.
3) Give a cue before transitioningThis is especially important if you are transitioning from an unpreferred activity to a preferred activity.
Verbal cue: Say, “Ok Mark, you have 5 minutes to play.” and then remind him again at the 1 minute mark. Give your child as much time to prepare as possible.
Visual cue: A timer (either a visual timer or an electronic timer) can be particularly helpful when given with these warnings. Additionally, you could keep a bell or other noise maker as a signal that transition is near. Here is a great example of a visual timer http://www.timetimer.com/.
Auditory cue: Use a song to initiate the end of an activity for little ones that will signal a transition is near. Ensure the song is age appropriate. It can be the “Clean Up” song for little ones, or any song you prefer. Just make sure to only use the song during transition times.
4) Build behavioral momentum Give your child easy demands BEFORE you give them a difficult oneIf transitions are hard for your child, give them several “easy” demands that they are likely to follow, and THEN give them your transition demand. You might say, “Give me high 5”, “Give me high 10”, and then follow those by “Put up your toys”. Your child will have built a momentum of being successful, hopefully to make a tantrum-free transition more likely.
If a student is are able to transition with ease, they can spend more time with their peers, have sense of control over their environment, and have less challenging behavior in school, home, and in the community. For transitions to be successful in all settings, you might have to give some of these strategies to your child’s teacher, so that everyone is on the same page. Transitions are a part of everyone’s daily schedule, but often you don’t even think twice about them. Teaching your child to transition well as early as possible will help him/her in multiple environments for the rest of their life.