Some children and adults are highly sensitive to transitions. However, unlike adults who have the power to control transitions, children often do not have that same control. On top of that, children are not always able to tell us how they are feeling or what they need when they are feeling dysregulated during transitions.
Think about how we plan and organize our daily life to avoid the stress of transitions. We have so many tools we use such as, using our visual schedules, trying not to rush or be late, reducing the number of transitions, being consistent in our routines, providing ourselves with redirection during more stressful transitions. We even carry transition objects [almost everyone carries a smartphone these days], and sometimes we dangle a carrot [ever stopped for a coffee as a treat?] to help with those less preferred transitions.
Transitions and the Sensitive Child
Many children with autism are sensitive to transitions. There are so many factors that may make transitions difficult for them such as; Has the child slept well? Have they eaten? Are they sick or getting sick? Have they had a stressful day at school?
And then there is the emotional factor. If past transitions have been difficult for the child, then the child anticipates that every transition will be the same. This negative emotional memory adds stress to the transition. As the transition approaches, the child becomes more and more anxious and challenging behaviours may begin to escalate.
Eight Strategies to Support Positive Transitions for Children with Autism
- Provide a visual schedule – include a daily visual schedule as part of your child’s daily routine to help prepare them for transitions before they occur. Visual schedules provide your child with a plan for the day.
- Reduce the number of transitions – plan your child’s day to reduce the number of transitions as much as possible.
- Consistency and Predictability – follow the same routine, patterns, driving routes, etc. The consistency and predictability will lessen the stress during the transitions.
- Slow Down – do not rush your child, give them transition warnings using verbal and visual supports and then lots of time to process and come to the transition when they are ready.
- Offer a Break – build in short breaks throughout the child’s day to support their regulatory needs [movement, water, deep pressure]. Addressing their sensory and emotional needs will lessen stress during transitions.
- Use Redirection – use the child’s affinity to engage them just before a transition. This offers redirection away from the anxiety and stress of the transition focusing instead on something enjoyable.
- Provide a Transition Object – carrying a transition object can lessen stress during the transition. Encourage your child to choose something to bring from home and something they carry with them throughout the day.
- Dangle a Carrot – offer your child rewards following an activity to help with the transition. Offering your child, a preferred toy or treat redirects their focus during the stress of a transition. It also helps create positive emotional memories around transitions.
Want to learn more about supporting children with autism? Take our Autism Demystification® Online Course.