Helping Children Transition Between Activities

Managing Transitions Between Activities for Kids with Autism

It can be challenging to help children transition from one activity to another. In particular, children with disabilities like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face this challenge.

Why Is Transitioning Between Activities Difficult for Children with Autism?

Transitioning kids with autism between activities can be challenging for many reasons.

ASD kids sometimes become hyper-focused on what they are doing, making it difficult for them to move on to another activity. There are times when kids with autism struggle to stop doing something they enjoy, especially when they are forced to start doing something they don’t like. Other times, sensory issues prevent kids with autism from easily transitioning between activities. Another reason why kids with autism might have difficulty transitioning between activities is that they might have difficulty understanding what is expected of them. There might be a deficit in receptive or listening skills. Furthermore, they may find the effort required for the expected activity to be too overwhelming in some way, making even starting it more challenging. It is also possible that the activity they should transition to is too complex for them, and therefore feels too overwhelming, or they do not possess the skills required.

A Few Examples of Transitioning Between Activities in Daily Life

Being able to transition between activities easily and effectively is an essential life skill.

Transitioning Between Activities for Kids

It is a part of every person’s daily life to be able to transition between activities, both in small and significant ways. Children need to be able to transition between activities in a variety of ways, including:

  • When a child needs to stop playing to bathe
  • When a child needs to leave the house and get on the school bus
  • When a child needs to stop what they are doing and go to the table for dinner
  • When a student is expected to walk from the classroom to the gym or outside for recess at school
  • When a child needs to stop playing video games and go to bed
  • When a child needs to move from breakfast to brushing their teeth

Transitioning Between Activities for Adults

A few examples of how adults need to be able to transition between activities include:

  • Going from being at home to getting in their car to get to work
  • From relaxing on the couch to getting household chores done
  • From making dinner to caring for their baby or young child

How to Help Kids with Autism Transition Between Activities

Our discussion will include some tips for helping children (especially those with autism) transition between activities. Kids with autism have difficulty transitioning between activities, which can be prevented by preventing the difficulties they face. Consider what issues your child may have transitioning between activities as a parent or caregiver. Think of specific activities and behaviors your child shows that indicate they are having difficulty adjusting. Next, devise a plan to prevent challenging behaviors as well as to facilitate your child’s transition from one activity to another.

Taking the Hassle Out of It

The next time you see that your child has trouble with transitions that are related to it being difficult for them to do something, you might want to give them some suggestions on how to make it easier for them. For example, if your child has difficulties getting out of bed in the morning or if he or she has trouble transitioning from free time/play time to getting ready for school, you should make sure that you have your child’s clothes, school supplies, shoes, and anything else they might need readily available for them the night before, so getting them ready for school doesn’t seem as daunting.

It’s a Good Idea to Give Warnings

Give kids a gentle warning before the upcoming transition to help them prepare for the change. For example, if your child needs to stop playing video games and come to dinner with the family, you could tell them, “20 more minutes, then dinner time”, then give them additional warnings after 10 minutes and 5 minutes. Don’t allow extra time or they will continue to test you to see how much extra time they can get. It can be tough at first because sometimes kids don’t plan ahead in the game they are playing, so they can feel okay ending their game early, but with some help from you and consistency, they will learn to end their games on time. A visual timer can also serve as a reminder of how much time is left.

Adapt Your Child’s Activity Level

If you observe your child’s behavior and note what your child struggles with, you might notice that they struggle with transitions, especially when they are engaged in a certain activity. If they are allowed to watch TV in the morning, some kids have trouble transitioning from watching TV to getting ready. It appears that some children don’t have a negative effect when allowed to watch TV before school in the morning.

When your child struggles with transitions related to being on electronics, you could make it a rule that they do not have access to electronics (watch TV, play video games, etc.) before an activity that is typically difficult for them to transition to when electronics are present.

Additionally, this could be relevant during homework time. Making a rule that children aren’t allowed to play video games until they have completed their homework might help your child transition from electronics to homework.

Observe your child and pay attention to what works best for them. Keeping your expectations consistent is also crucial. In most cases, allowing electronics one day and restricting them the next leads to confusion and more challenging behavior. Consider what is best for your child while staying consistent with the approach you choose.

Managing Transitions Between Activities for Kids with ASD

To review, some strategies you can use to help your child transition between activities are as follows:

  • Your child should be able to begin and complete the activity they are expected to transition into easily
  • Make sure your child is prepared for the upcoming transition by giving warnings
  • Adjust your child’s activities when a transition is expected – particularly if a certain activity often leads to challenging behavior

Transitioning between activities is not possible for every child in the same way. Nevertheless, we have provided a few strategies that are likely to be helpful as you customize your child’s approach.

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