Transitions can be difficult for all children, but extremely so for a child with autism or ADHD. Yet, everybody must go through transitions every single day. A transition could be as small as switching from one task to another, or as big as starting school or moving to a new house. There are different strategies you can use to prepare your child for a transition, which will make transitions easier for them and you.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon. If you make a purchase I may receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I use myself.
1. Make Transitions Easier With A First-Then Statement
This is a useful tool for smaller transitions, like changing activities. The first-then statement looks like this:
“First, (non-preferred/current activity), then, (preferred/upcoming activity)”
When you say too much at once your words lose meaning. It is too hard for your son to follow what is happening. Also, if he needs to complete something, such as a chore, before moving onto something fun – talking about the fun thing first can make him lose focus and he may become resistant to completing the task.
Here are some examples of first-then statements:
“First, put your toys in the box, then we will watch a movie”
“First, eat your supper, then you can play outside”
“First, it is bath time, then I will read your book”
“First, pick up your blocks, then you can paint”
The consistency of the language, overtime, will help your son to understand exactly what is coming next. It tells him the sequence of events that are about to happen, without becoming too complicated.
2. Use Change Warnings, More Than Once
A change warning lets your daughter know that a transition is coming. When she knows what to expect, it will be easier to move on from the current activity. For example, if it was almost bed time you would say something like this:
“In 10 minutes it will be time to turn off your tablet, and go to bed”
Make transitions easier by giving many change warnings. At my house, I give the warning that bedtime is coming in one hour. I then remind the kids about bed time with further change warnings at 30 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes. Then at 2 minutes I announce there is 2 minutes left, finish what you are doing – save your video games, pick up your toys, finish colouring, pause your TV show for tomorrow, etc. Getting the kids into bed is always easier when they have had plenty of warnings.
I would certainly be met with resistance if I told my son it was time for bed with no warning at all. If I told him there was 10 minutes and then didn’t say anything else I would also be met with resistance. Kids need the opportunity to finish what they are doing rather than being expected to abruptly stop a task.
3. Use A Visual Timer
A visual timer complements change warnings and when-then statements nicely. I highly recommend using the Time Timer over any other visual timer. The time timer makes transitions easier because your son can see the red going down as it counts down to the end of the activity. A lot of children don’t fully understand the concept of time so using a digital timer can still be confusing for them. Plus, the time timer is big enough to see from across the room. Your son won’t need to stop what he’s doing to check how much time is left. I know they are preferred by professionals as well because my sons classroom teacher, his therapist, and his social group all have one. You can purchase the time timer at Amazon.
4. Make Transitions Easier By Bringing Along An Object
Familiarity is comforting to children with autism. A favourite toy or object can help your daughter with staying calm and self regulation. Allow her to keep this item with her. I purchased my son a tiny ladybug ornament, the size of a dime. I told him that his ladybug brings good luck. The ladybug is small enough for him to keep in his pocket, but he can pat his pant leg any time he wants and know it’s there, providing sameness through the always changing day.
Some kids transition better by taking an object with them from the current activity, on to the next. For example, if your daughter was colouring, but it was time to go to an appointment, she might feel better by taking one of the crayons along with her.
5. Keep The Schedule Visual
I love visuals. They make everything so much easier. Whenever your son feels uncertainty he can be reminded of what to expect by looking at the schedule. A lot of children feel anxious about what will be happening during the day, even if it’s always the same routine. Visual schedules are common in classrooms but they are great to use at home , too. You can hang it up in a common area where everyone can see it.
I just ordered this bundle of visuals by Schkidules. This bundle is an Amazon exclusive that you won’t find anywhere else for this price, it’s a steal. I am going to build a family command center with visuals, I will share with you guys when it is finished.
Your child will be able to see, at any time, what is coming next. Transitions are easier for children when they know what to expect. It is also a great way of encouraging your child to participate in chores around the house. They can see chore on the schedule, which will remind them of the chore without prompting. For my son, I am going to be adding “Feed the cat” to his daily routine. He will get to earn a reward each time he feeds the cat, too. This is perfect for children with autism, ADHD, or just forgetful children. It’s available on Amazon.
6. Talk About Upcoming Big Changes To Make Transitions Easier
When somethings big is coming – even something exciting like a vacation, the impending change can still cause anxiety and greatly affect a child’s ability to self regulate.
Talk about the change as much as possible before, so your son will know what to expect. If he will be going to a new place – such as school, or daycare – try to get some pictures of the location that you two can look at together and talk about it. The more you talk, the more at ease he will feel, and the change will feel more familiar.
My son goes to a play group once a week with a group of other kids who also have autism. Recently the group was moved to a new location in order to have more space. Several weeks before the big move, the director e-mailed all the parents pictures of the new location. J and I looked at the pictures every day and talked about the different activities he would do in each room. On the first day at the new location, he was already so familiar with the building from looking at the pictures that he knew exactly which way to go when we got there.
You can take pictures yourself and make your own social story for your son. You don’t need to be creative, you can make your social story with power point. Keep the story very simple and explain what to expect with short, easy to understand sentences. You can also check out my ultimate list of children’s books which contains tons of books that can help prepare your child for upcoming transitions! Learn how you can get access to all of them for free!
7. Practice Makes Perfect
Practice transitions with your daughter at home. The more often she does something the more comfortable she will be. Try setting up a few different play stations in your house. Make each station in a different room, and involve a different activity. For example, you could set up craft supplies at the kitchen table, lego in her bedroom, and play-doh in the Rec room. Use your time timer and set it for 10 minutes and rotate through each activity. Don’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, just be there to make her feel comfortable and it will make transitions easier over time. You can try out the different strategies during the practice to find out what works best.
8. Have A Plan For The Unexpected
A set plan for when something unexpected happens can help your son know what to expect even during the unexpected. I worked with the school to make a plan for the unexpected for J last year after two really hard days for him. There was a fire drill on the first day, and then a substitute teacher on the second day.
So basically our plan is for any school day that is out of the usual like the days I mentioned above, or when there are assemblies or book fairs, etc. In the morning his EPA takes him to the learning center instead of the classroom. She is his person – his sameness wherever he goes at school. Having her with him makes transitions easier because he trusts her. The school staff can prepare J for the transitions from the learning center using the strategies we talked about. The faculty isn’t allowed to tell students about a fire drill. However, they can have J in the learning center with headphones ready to minimize how it will impact him.
If you found this article helpful, you may also enjoy my post about how to avoid public meltdowns.