From A to B: Three Ways to Help Children with Autism Transition

3/4/2019 By Michelle Lepitre, BCBA

For many children with autism, stopping and starting activities or changing locations can be very difficult. The difficulty usually lies in the child giving up a preferred item or activity, while others may become upset because they don’t know or understand what is coming next. One effective strategy to help children transition between activities and locations more smoothly is to prepare them for what will happen. Three simple ways to help prepare your child for transitioning between activities or locations are:

1. Talk about the change in advance.

Talking to your child BEFORE the transition about when it will occur and what behaviors are expected can help prevent your child from getting frustrated. Take a few minutes to tell them what is going to happen next before it happens. Explain what they will be expected to do and what they are allowed to do. If the transition is going to the store, you may need to think about the trip as several transitions and plan for each of them. For example, you can talk about going from the house to the car before you leave. You could then talk about going from the car to the store while you are on the way. Remember to explain each step using simple and clear words.

2. Use visual aids in the form of pictures or a social story.

Sometimes just talking about upcoming changes or transitions may not be enough support for your child. In many cases, it can be helpful to add in the use of visual supports. This can be done in a variety of ways from simply showing them a picture of what is coming next to creating a social story by adding a descriptive narrative to the pictures. Using simple pictures can help your child to see what the transition will look like and will ease their anxiety about the future. Here’s a good example of a “Time’s Up!” social story.


3. Use timer “warnings.”

Another way you can prepare your child for transitions is to include a time warning prior to asking them to move to the new area or activity. For example, you can say, “Two more minutes playing Legos, and then we will clean up.” For some children, it may even be helpful to present the time warning in increments, giving a warning at 5 minutes, then at 2 minutes, etc.

Time warnings are another area where additional visual support can be helpful. Timers can be especially helpful for younger children. You can buy a timer on Amazon or use a timer app on your phone or tablet.

Overall, incorporating one or more of these suggestions can help your child understand and more readily accept your instructions during times when you are asking them to transition from one activity to another.

For children with autism, dealing with emotions is often very challenging. Many kids with autism perceive emotions as things that arise suddenly and with no warning. They may struggle to recognize their emotions and to link them to the events that have caused them. Children with autism also struggle to identify emotions expressed by others. To help your child with autism better handle their emotions, help them practice identifying emotions in other people, use social stories to help them identify their own emotions, teach coping skills and debrief after an emotional event.