Autism Transition Troubles?

Autism transition troubles can cause problems for teachers and parents. Visual strategies give students with autism information. They are important tools to help students with autism handle difficult situations such as managing transitions.

Is this a common experience?

This post from an autism Mom came across my feed today.  It’s all about what should have been a simple transition from one activity to another.

Mom shared,  “My 4yo had a huge meltdown today when we were going to the car after a fun walk at the nature park this morning. He was screaming and trying to leap out of the stroller. . . then he was resisting and screaming and flailing and hitting while I was trying to buckle him in his seat.”

Then Mom said what many parents feel.  “IDK what I’m supposed to do in situations like that. . .”

In all honesty, most autism parents can share similar experiences.

There is no perfect answer

Kids are kids and there is no such thing as perfection. But there are tools to help you increase the number of times you achieve success. Visual strategies are the “magic” tools. We use them to give children with autism information.

When kids have the correct information, they are more likely to cooperate.

Life is full of transitions

Stopping one activity and then starting another. Leaving one location to go to another room or the car or any other place. We call these transitions.

The process of change can provide its own set of challenges. Although some students are unaffected by these transitions, there are many who can experience predictable difficulty during times of change.

There are many reasons for transition troubles

Some children just don’t understand why the change is happening. They don’t figure it out. For others, the problem is stopping a desirable activity. There are many reasons transitions cause problems.

There is no way to avoid transitions. They are a part of life. But figuring out why a child is resisting is part of our challenge. It’s like one piece of the puzzle.

What is the “magic formula” to avoid problems?

Learning how to support the transition times with visual information is a strategy to help overcome the difficulties.

There is no magic to it, but we use visual supports to give students more information. That’s the the key.

The challenge is to figure out what the student is thinking or perceiving during that difficult transition time. How does the student see that situation?

Answering that question will help to develop strategies to avoid problem behaviors or move the student through the transition routine.

3 Quick strategies to help transitions

1. Prepare students for transitions

Alert students that a transition is coming. Some transition times are obvious because of the natural ending of an activity (i.e., the game is finished, the job is done).

Schedules, timers or pictures are examples of visual tools to give the student information to help them prepare for an upcoming change.

Give the child something to carry that will help them understand your destination. Carry a towel on the way to swimming. Carry a shopping list or a picture of something you are going to buy when you are on the way to the grocery store.

2. Let students know when they can return to the activity they don’t want to leave

Bring a visual tool that shows your child that you will return to the swimming pool on Thursday. Or, use the calendar on your phone to indicate what will happen tomorrow or in the future. Making your information visual will be much more meaningful than verbal information by itself.

3. Give your child a chance to make a choice

Let him know it’s time to make a change but give him a choice about what is next.

We have to leave the swimming pool now. Should we go the gas station or to the grocery store first? Of course, showing pictures of the gas station and the grocery store will help that communication interaction.

Remember, transitions are especially difficult if there is an unexpected surprise or the child is leaving something favorable. The remedy is to give more information.

P.S. One of the most important things we can do to avoid behavior situations with our student with autism is to give them information in a form that they understand.


 This book provides many ways to use visual supports to help students gain success with life transitions.

Visual Strategies for Improving Communication

P.P.S. How do you use visual supports to help with transitions?  Do you have a story to share? Comment below. . .

Check out the book:

Visual Strategies for Improving Communication

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