Prepare for known and unknown changes and interruptions
Transitions envisioned, reviewed and rehearsed
Transitions or shifts (changes) occur numerous times throughout one's day and lifetime. Changes can be events many of us try to avoid or postpone especially if we are not familiar or comfortable with the next task. Individuals with an ASD may not welcome a change in foods, environments, instructions, routes, classes, schedules, careers, etc.
So, what can help? Individualizing and tailoring transitions to the individual's strengths and situation are imperative to ensure a smoother transition between activities, locations and events occurring in an individual’s daily routine or environment.
Knowing what the expectations are in a new environment or task can be helpful. Visiting a new environment can be very helpful. This may be done through video, pictures or an actual walk through of the environment. Learning how to manage time, end tasks, start tasks and prepare for the next task, event, or environment is essential if a smooth transition is the goal. Tailor transitions and time to encourage and prepare the individual for self-control and independence during transitions.
Teach what to do between activities, locations, etc. It is really not as easy as it looks especially if you are really interested in a task you are doing.
Examples of transitioning questions to ask yourself
What is the most beneficial skill for the individual during transitions?
What does the transition to the car look like?
What do you want the individual to do?
Do you want the individual to walk to the car, run to the car, open the door or close it after everyone gets in the car?
Where do you want the individual to sit?
What do you want the individual to have in his/her hands?
What can motivate the individual to transition smoothly to the next activity or task?
Is there something the individual can look forward to when the individual goes to the new activity?
Lets Dive A Little Deeper
Teach how to use an individualized schedule
Know what is expected of the individual for that particular time of the day.
Practice changes in routines/schedule
Add a sign for a change in one's routine such as a blue lightening bolt sign or the written word. Practice what to do when the individual views the sign of change on the class or individual schedule. Begin with very small changes. Example: Will work with Ms. ____ instead of Mr. ____ for two minutes in math.
Perform a task analysis of the transition or shift
Write out each step of the transition. This helps if an individual is really having a difficult time with a transition. Maybe there is a step that is missing. Maybe the individual is confused regarding a step, etc.
Use an activity or task schedule
Checklist of the order of tasks within an activity.
Physical prompt plus
This is the most intrusive way to intervene however, sometimes hand-over-hand or physically guiding an individual through necessary steps of a transition is needed to help the individual experience success during the transition.
Example: If an individual needs to get in a car, then guiding the individual to the car vs. the street may be necessary at first. Sometimes colored duct tape can be a physical line for the individual to walk on to guide him/her where to walk when going to a car, the next class, etc. However, at first, it may help to assist the individual to the line or path (real or imaginary). Of course other ways to prepare for the transition would be helpful. If checking a schedule is part of the transition, then it might be necessary to guide the individual's hand or touch the individual's forearm to prompt the individual to check off the task (on a schedule) which has ended and take a symbol of the next task to the physical environment of the next task.
Photo cues can be shown to forewarn of transition. Example: Mom shows child a picture of the car, Walmart, Grandma, etc.
Objects or items individual to take to next location, area or task. Objects or items help to assist with associating the object with the next expectation or task. Example: Give the individual part of the next task. If time to take a bath, then hand the individual a wash cloth. If it is time for gym, then hand the individual an orange cone or boundary marker to take to the gym, etc.
Use of timer
Use of times can be used to forewarn of transition. Most of us do not like others ending an activity for us such as turning off a favorite television show or picking up our plate while we're eating. However, by teaching the individual to use a timer to be on time and to take care of needs creates more independence and less reliance upon adults.
Avoid surprises and keep close to routine if at all possible.
List the major events in the day for the family as a whole. Example: First this.. then that.. then....
Plan the day with time to change activities. Assign a job or task during transitions. Example: Turn lights off and on to cue others, ring bell for others, check off schedule, etc.
Use individual reinforcers or preferences
Most of us do not enjoy ending an enjoyable task, activity or event. However, if we have something to look forward to our transition may go a little smoother. How can we make the journey a little more predictable and enjoyable? An example may be: "First pick up your toys then get your Spiderman DVD for the car". The Spiderman DVD (if a highly preferred item) may help the individual end a preferred task when another highly preferred task is somehow tied to the transition.
Checklist of transition tasks
An activity schedule or list of tasks to complete in the transition may be helpful. The child or adult checks off completed steps of transitioning to next activity, grade level, school, bed, next day, etc. Sometimes the sense of completion can be reinforcing for individuals who desire routine.
Define physical areas
Design physical areas for designated tasks and time periods. Example: The living room instead of the child's bedroom is the designated area for family time. Therefore, one must physically get up and leave an area with possible distractions or reminders of a highly preferred task such as reading alone in room.
Map out or draw out where the individual goes during a transition, what the individual does in the area, etc.
Token economy system
Token economy systems can be very effective when the individual understands that a token represents moving towards a highly desired task or choice. Example: If an individual needs 10 tokens (pennies, stickers, straws, etc.) to receive a preferred task or item, then include difficult tasks within the transition as opportunities to earn transitions. Another example: One token is earned for setting the timer, another token is earned for ending the task on time, another token for cleaning up before going to the next task, another for walking to the next activity, etc.
Piece of the whole
For different activities that started on time ended on time and completed an individual can receive a piece of a puzzle (tied to a high interest) for completing specific steps involved during a transition.
Use of minute strips
Minute strips can be used to count down the time left in an activity for individuals unable to grasp concept of timer.
Visual locators/physical boundaries
Foot prints or tape on floor to designate where to stand or go during transition
Teach and practice changes to one's daily routine
Know exactly what to do when a change or obstacle occurs. Remember changes and interruptions will occur regardless of how hard we try to keep our routine. So, prepare and practice what to do not if but when this happens.
Examples of changes:
Car doesn't start
Road is blocked
Store is closed
Teacher is absent
Mom has a headache
Run out of favorite snack
Use music of interest
Play the individual's favorite music or jingle. When it begins, then the individual begins transitioning and when the song or jingle ends, the transition is to be complete. What happens when it is complete? It may be reinforcing enough to make it to the next place or activity before the song ends especially if the individual give himself credit for doing so or receives a check or token for transitioning before the song ends. Also, additional desired items can be added to the next activity if he/she makes it to the next activity or location within the time limit.
Great information from a friend who is an OT & Autism Specialist
"For many of my students when it is time to transition, we use an item (laminated Sponge Bob on a popsicle stick, textured reptile, puzzle piece, etc.) to provide the visual cue to 'check your schedule'. Pair the item with the verbal prompt. Soon the verbal prompt can be faded. The schedule usually has a dixie cup, pocket, etc. attached to hold the item. As far as 'coming to the table' as you gave as an example, be sure there is a quick, small reinforcer there when the child sits down. Over time you can work on fading that reinforcer as the transition becomes more successful."
References: Activity Schedules For Children With Autism, 2nd Ed.: Teaching Independent Behavior - By Lynn E. McClannahan, Ph.D. & Patricia Krantz (2010)