Issue 24, The Trouble with Transitions

By | November 3, 2014

In the last issue, I wrote about kids who chew, suck or bite, what it means and what you can do about it. This issue will be about transitions…somedays it seems like we can’t live with them and we can’t live without them!
Brainwaves is a monthly newsletter designed to create some “brainwaves” within my community of colleagues, friends and clients.
What is a transition?
The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.” In home and school this can describe big life events such as moving homes or schools as well as little day to day moments such as coming home from school or getting ready for recess.
Why are transitions troubling?
Stuart Shanker, a Canadian researcher out of York University, describes that many children struggle with shifting their brain and regulating their behaviors based on the expectations or rules of the situation. offers this handout to help parents manage transitions.

What to do about it?spiral clock
Some children need extra time. Use concrete warnings, and perhaps a time timer. Warnings can include “three more turns” and then count down with them. Be sure to set a realistic expectation for your child and stick with it.

Try a chant, song, or count-down where they can join with you, their peers or siblings in transitioning. Music can be highly engaging and create an emotional shift for some children who become stuck.
Entice them into the next activity by engaging with them and reminding them about
something fun within the next activity. If you work toward developing a fun memory, your child will be more motivated to join you in the transition.
Sometimes playing a guessing game along the way can be helpful such as “eye spy” or “I am thinking of an animal…it has pointy ears?”

TIME = ACTIVITY + ACTIVITY + ACTIVITY…thinks to do today list
Some children don’t understand or remember the overall structure of a day, including the repetitive routines.
These children require visual schedules to assist them to see the routines of the day. Use a white board or sticky notes if you are “on the go”. Rhythmic routines are very important toward developing a regulated brain and body.
These children also benefit from consistency, with small amounts of variations to avoid developing rigidity habits.

Some children don’t understand when one activity is over and another one begins. It can be helpful to teach them beginning, middle and end. Again you can use a white board or sticky notes!

Children with autism may lack a sense of time constancy. They seem to believe that when an activity ends or they hear the word “done”, that itlinks is forever and not “for now”.
One parent told me that instead of saying “okay, we are done playing in the park, we need to walk home now” she says “okay, it is time to continue our day by walking home”.
Some children don’t understand what to do during a transition.
Give these children a role or genuine job. Sometimes they do well with a transition object such as a book that they bring with them from one activity to the next.

When visual schedules are used and an unexpected change needs to happen, the word/picture label can be moved to a category that surprisedsignifies “later” or “another day”. In this way, it remains visually available and doesn’t disappear.

A mother of a child who has made progress in managing surprises, gives her child a special token in the morning as a signal that there will be something different during the day.