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How to Help Children With Autism in Daily Transitions Between Settings

by Karen Doyle

Children with autism rely heavily on routines in order to help them make sense of the world, so change can be stressful. This may be because they have a greater need for predictability, have difficulty understanding what activity may come next, or become upset when an activity is interrupted, according to the Indiana Resource Center for Autism. Learning to transition from one activity to another is a skill that every child needs, but one that can be difficult for autistic children to master. Understanding the difficulty with transitions and planning ahead for them can help.

Give Advance Notice

According to the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, up to 25 percent of a child's school day may be spent transitioning from one activity to another, so it is important to have strategies to ease these transitions. Giving advance notice that a transition is coming soon can help. Your child may have trouble with transitions if someone comes up to him and says, “Okay, we need to leave for therapy now. Put your toys away.” Providing some advance notice that a transition is going to occur may help the process go more smoothly. Ten minutes before you need to leave, you might say, “We are leaving for therapy in ten minutes. In five minutes, we’ll put the toys away so we will be ready to go.” After five minutes, say, “It’s time to put the toys away so that we can leave for therapy in five minutes.”

Use a Timer

Temporal, or time, concepts can be difficult for children with autism to master. If your child is unable to tell time, or has trouble estimating time, a timer may help. This can be a kitchen timer or a special visual timer like the Time Timer, created for this purpose. If your child is sensitive to loud, sudden noises, you may want to use a timer that vibrates or lights up instead of ringing. As your child matures, he may be able to set the timer himself.

Create a Visual Schedule

Children with autism may have difficulty understanding or processing verbal directions, according to the Indiana Resource Center for Autism. Creating a visual schedule for your child will help him prepare for transitions, and reduce the need for him to rely on verbal directions. A visual schedule can allow children with autism to see what activities are coming up, understand the sequence of activities during the day, and increase the level of predictability. Use pictures of the things he will be doing during the day, and put a picture of a clock next to each activity if your child is able to tell time. When it is time to move from one activity to the next, you can point out the activity and the clock on the schedule. If the schedule can be varied, have your child arrange the pictures in the order he would like to do the activities in.

Consider Each Transition

Depending upon your child's specific schedule, needs and strengths, a variety of strategies may need to be employed, according to the Indiana Resource Center for Autism. For example, consider whether you can modify his schedule to reduce the number of transitions each day. If you have to leave home for school, come home, and leave again for therapy, you may be able to eliminate a transition by rescheduling the therapy session so it occurs right after school. If your child transitions more easily from dinner straight to a bath, rather than watching TV in between, alter the schedule so that TV time comes after the bath. Minimizing the number of transitions may make them all a little smoother.

About the Author

Karen Doyle has been a writer since 1993, covering finance, business, marketing and parenting. Her work has been published in "Kidding Around" and "A Cup of Comfort." Doyle holds a bachelor's degree in marketing from Boston College.

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