Most everyone can agree that having to stop something they enjoy doing is never fun. Unfortunately tolerating transitions is a part of everyday life no matter what environment a person is in. For children and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, transitions can be the root of many problem behaviors.
There are several things one can do to help learners tolerate transitions. Setting clear expectations is a very easy strategy to incorporate into everyday life. Providing warnings and using timers that are both visual and auditory can be extremely effective. Another method is to teach the person to request “more time” successfully.
An antecedent manipulation is a strategy that is implemented BEFORE a behavior occurs in order to increase the likelihood of a desirable skill or decrease the likelihood of a problem behavior. Setting expectations is an example of an antecedent manipulation. This strategy involves telling the person how long a task will go on for or when they will be required to transition BEFORE they begin a preferred activity. An example is if a parents were to tell their child that they will only be going to their friend’s house for one hour. They explain that once the hour is up, they will have to leave their friends house. If possible, have the child repeat the expectation or acknowledge that they hear and understand it.
Timers are another very helpful tool when addressing transitions. It is best to use a timer that is both visual and audible. This allows the person to know that time is up regardless of if they are looking at the timer directly or not. Visual timers allow the person to see the amount of time they have left. Timers paired with frequent warnings are even more effective. An example of this strategy is when a child is having a coloring break before getting their homework done. The parent can set expectations that they will get to color for 15 minutes and set a timer for exactly 15 minutes. Every five minutes the parent can remind the child of how much time they have left. Once it gets down to only one minute, the parent could even remind them that they only have one minute left and show them the visual timer. Once the timer goes off, the child will clean up their area and start their homework.
Another great skill to teach a person who struggles with transitions is how to request for “more time.” This will increase their use of functional communication with others and allow them to gain access to the activity for a little while longer. A good example of this is when a person is playing video games before dinner. The parent may have set expectations and utilized a timer for this activity, but once the timer went off, the person wanted to keep playing. Instead of the child saying “no” or having a tantrum, the parent can tell the person to say “more time please.” If this is requested and allowed, the parent should set the timer again for another couple minutes.
Transitions can be tough and the first step in helping is always to empathize and choose a plan that works best for the individual. The better you understand the circumstance the more readily you can develop a plan.