Autism Transition Strategies: 5 Steps to Smoother Transitions

You might be wondering why children with autism have such a hard time transitioning from highly preferred activities to non-preferred activities. I’m here to tell you that we all have trouble with transitions, and I’ll be providing you with some autism transition strategies to help your child or client(s) with autism.

Ready to apply these autism transition strategies and help your child or client(s) go through smoother transitions?

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Imagine you are at the beach on a beautiful sunny day having a cold drink and reading a great book. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most reinforcing activity, you would probably rate being at the beach on this day to be a 10.

Without warning, I abruptly come up to you and say “all done beach, time to load heavy boxes in a truck.” You would most likely not like this at all and might start displaying problem behaviors in the form of arguing, stomping your feet, and slamming your chair onto the sand. You might even refuse to leave your preferred activity and literally dig your heels into the sand. What I want to illustrate is that we all have problems with transitioning from high preferred to low preferred activities.

The key is to ease transitions by not asking a child to transition from a 10 (a highly preferred activity) to a 2 (work) constantly throughout their day.

Below are five tips and autism transition strategies to help ease transitions.

1) Dangle the carrot (the reinforcement) before problem behavior occurs. When my son, Lucas was little he loved to be in the ocean for hours…..I needed to offer him something really powerful like pizza to get him to come out of the ocean.  But always remember to offer the reinforcement before you place the demand to transition not after problem behavior occurs.  So in this case, I said..”Lucas time for Pizza, let’s get out and dry off.”

2) Don’t physically move a student from one location to another (even if they are small enough to carry or move). I wouldn’t even think about physically dragging you off the beach to help me load heavy boxes as this could lead to me getting arrested for assault. It disturbs me that some people try to physically move students with autism from one activity to the next.

3) Whenever possible, give choices. In the beach example, if I would have come up and stated that I needed help with some heavy boxes and asked you when would be a good time for you to transition, you would probably have been a lot more cooperative. You may have suggested that we load the boxes when you finished your drink or after you finished a chapter in the great book you were reading. We make a lot of choices throughout the day, especially when we are faced with difficult or unpleasant tasks. We need to give our students with autism as many choices as possible to ease transitions.

4) Sandwich harder activities between two preferred activities and consider using schedules and timers. 

5) Make sure all “work” stations are paired with reinforcement and avoid the word work whenever you can. Some of the best classrooms and home programs I have seen have strong reinforcers at every “work” area. I often tell professionals and parents to avoid the word “work” for students who have difficulty with transitions and to spend a few minutes at the beginning of each session pairing yourself and the materials with reinforcement. If students are not running towards the next activity or at least moving there without problem behavior, your demands are probably too high and/or your reinforcement is too low.

Ready to apply these autism transition strategies and help your child or client(s) go through smoother transitions?