September 29th

This time of year is full of change for a multitude of children. Whether they are transitioning into a new school year, daycare classroom, Sunday school classroom or just a new schedule at home those differences can be overwhelming for both the child and the parents/teachers who are there to help. So this week are going to focus on…


Transitions occur every day, all day long. Many people don’t even notice the transitions they make because they run so smoothly. However, for those with young children or children with special needs even the small transitions can be a BIG deal. So here are some suggestions and ideas on techniques to facilitate positive transitions both for small everyday tasks and also for those big events and life changes.

  1. Creating a transition object- Use a toy or favored object (blanket, stuffed animal, train, etc) that can be presented to the child to cue a transition between activities. Allow the child to carry it to the new activity and place it in a visible location. Once the activity is complete prompt the child to retrieve the object and use it to transition to the next location.

  2. Pre-Set Prior to Transition- Prior to the event (How far ahead depends on the child and the magnitude of the event. For small events 5 minutes is generally enough for others you may need to start days or weeks ahead of time.) give the child peace of mind by letting them know about up-coming changes including the who, what and where details.

    • For a big change (such as changing classrooms, moving, vacation)- You will want to start weeks ahead letting them know they have "X many days" left and talking about the things to expect at the new room. You will want to smooth the way by taking them on a tour of the new location ahead of time and introducing them to the new teachers/people (this is why schools have open house!). You may also want to ease into it by having them attend a new location for a short period of time and increase it each day.
    • For a medium change (such as a singular change in a schedule (i.e. doctors appointment, holiday) - You will want to start a few days to a week ahead of time. Mention it a few times each day reviewing the change, the people and the event. Then review well the night before.
    • For a small change (such as transitioning between events in a regular day)- Depending on the child and the length of time in a given activity you may need to start between 5 minutes to 1 hour ahead of time. Let the child know that a transition is coming, what it will entail and who will be there to help them. If the child needs significant warning you will be pre-setting for the next transition while making the current transition. For example a teacher may be transitioning a child to a dramatic play center while saying “when dramatic play is done Ms. Jones will be here for speech.” You need to give the child regular gentle reminders “in 15 minutes dramatic play will end and Ms. Jones will be here.” How often depends on the child as well as the length of time in your activities. Examples of reminder schedule could include 30, 15, 10, 5, 3, 1 or 10, 5, 3, 2, 1.

  3. Use a Visual Timer (great for daily transitions)- Use a visual timer such as the Time Timer or Time Tracker Visual Timer to help the child understand and independently track the time prior to a transition. Many times the “3 minute” or “1 minute” prompt has little to no concrete meaning to a child (especially if someone tells them 1 minute and then doesn’t respond for 5!) so creating a concrete visual can help.
  4. visual timer Visual timer

  5. Use a Visual Schedule (great for daily use as well as changes)- Visual schedules are an awesome way to create a support that is both very concrete and also tailored to a child’s exact skill level and need. As adults we create these for ourselves all the time and don’t realize that we are supporting our ability not only to transition but also to organize and use self regulation (calendars, task or to do lists, agendas). A visual schedule can be as simple or as detailed as the child needs. For a child that can read it may be as simple as an agenda that you sit down every night or at the beginning of the week and write out the daily activities and responsibilities. For younger children or non-readers the schedule can be made from objects, real photographs or symbolic pictures depending on the child’s level of abstract thinking.

    • Object Schedules- This is for very young children or those that have very limited symbolic thinking (they don’t recognize a picture of a spoon is actually a spoon that they use to eat). It is the most complex schedule to create and use because you have to make or purchase an actual object as close as possible to those that a child uses regularly (i.e. a spoon for eating, a diaper for changing, a sock for changing close, a duck for bath, a piece of a blanket for bed). You present the object to the child a few minutes prior to helping them transition to the new activity.
    • Photographic Schedules- This is for children who can recognize themselves and familiar objects, people or locations in a photograph. It takes a little time to set up but it much easier to store and use once it’s up and running. Initially it requires you to take a picture of the child in each of their regular activities. You can print and laminate the pictures or set them up on a technology device. Once you have all of the pictures you can review them with the child (most children love looking at pictures of themselves). Then each evening or morning you work with the child to “set up” the days schedule. This allows you to review any changes to the regular schedule. Then during the day you can have the child use the schedule as frequently as necessary (for some it means having the child take the picture from the schedule to the activity, for others a quick glance at the schedule is enough to cue a transition).
    • Iconic Schedules- This is for a child that has some early symbolic skills (they can understand that a picture of a book means read). This is the easiest schedule to make because you can just go online or use magazines to clip pictures that can represent daily activities (i.e. a picture of a toothbrush for getting ready, a picture of a bagel for breakfast). Once created it is used the same way a photographic schedule is used.

    Visual Schedules can be used to work on so many things from transitions, to increasing independence with routines and helping with organization and self awareness. In the future we will do a post entirely devoted to picture schedules!!

  6. Use a Pre-Set Picture Book (best for BIG changes)- This can be time consuming for parents/teachers so it’s not something to use for every little change but when a big change is coming that you expect may be difficult or the child may not have much time to adjust to this can be useful. It is similar to a Social Story (which we will discuss in detail in another post) but really great for a vacations or a classroom change. It entails gathering pictures related to the changes and making a book that can be read to and discussed with the child for weeks prior to the event. For a vacation to Disney World you would want pictures of everyone that’s going, a picture of your transportation (car/airplane) and details related to that, pictures of the hotel, pictures of the park, pictures of anything you think may scare the child. You put the pictures together into a book that describes what the trip will be like and some things the child may encounter as well as reminders and reassurances that some new things may happen or changes will occur but it will all be okay. It should be written using first person pronouns (i.e. we will be going, I might see…) and read/reviewed at least daily for at least a week (a month would be better) before the event. The same can be done with pictures of new teachers, new classrooms, new books/school supplies for the start of the school year.

*Any of these techniques can be combined to create the necessary support for a child based on their unique situation*