Improving Transitions for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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child_working-with-puzzle_with-adult_preschool_morneaushepell_socialmediaby Laura Dutfield

Our daily routines are filled with various transitions as we move from task to task or location to location. For children on the autism spectrum, these transitions can often produce anxiety and be accompanied by challenging behaviours. Luckily, there are a number of helpful tools to increase predictability and create structure in daily life. These tools help to eliminate abrupt routine changes and provide clear expectations. Additionally, they can be used not only for daily transitions but to prepare children for upcoming routine changes.

Strategies to Help Transitions

Visual Schedules: Visual schedules are sequential images of daily tasks and activities that cultivate independence as children learn to follow routine, execute tasks and move from location to location in accordance with these visual prompts. They foster autonomy, reduce reliance on verbal prompts and clearly depict the tasks and activities of the day. Visual schedules are inexpensive to create, can be used across environments and are implementable by educators, therapists and parents alike.

Visual Timers: Visual schedules are often accompanied by visual timers which further serve to improve transitions. They are particularly helpful as children move from highly preferred activities or locations to those that are less preferred [i.e.: independent play to bedtime]. They visually represent allotted time intervals, vibrating or sounding when that time interval is complete. They can be used in combination with verbal transition warnings [i.e.: “In five more minutes when the timer rings, we are going to clean up the toys”] which indicate when a task is complete and what is to follow.

Improving Play and Communication Skills: In addition to these visual tools, we can further improve transitions by reducing rigidities and increasing flexibility around preferred tasks. In order to do so, programing to expand play repertoires to include multiple, diverse and varied activities can decrease dependence and build new preferences. Additionally, it is essential that we support the development of communication skills in order for children to make requests, articulate emotions and ask for information.

The use of these visual aids in conjunction with the development of social and communication skills will support smooth transitions, reduce challenging behaviours, and increase opportunities for positive reinforcement. These tools provide a predictability and clarity that we all require in order to successfully move through our daily responsibilities and meaningfully interact with the tasks, activities and individuals in our lives.

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