10 Practical Tips for Easier Transitions

10 Practical Tips for Easier Transitions

A headache forms as you slowly head to pick up your next student. What will it be today? Screaming, running away, or throwing himself on the floor? Transitions for this child are so difficult!  And it is so hard to see your student get this upset when you know things will be fine once you are there. What to do?  Try these 10 practical tips for easier transitions.

Ironically, once you find a way to help this child transition, therapy can actually go well! Your student participates and enjoys the activities you do. But you dread that transition time every session.

In the last post, I gave you 5 questions to ask yourself to start problem-solving your students’ transition difficulties. Every student is different, so a framework for figuring it out is helpful. If you missed it, catch it here.

It also helps to remember that your student is probably experiencing anxiety with no language-based way to communicate it.  While you are working on expanding communication skills, here are some adaptations in transition routines that I found to be helpful.

autism, difficulty making transitions, speech therapy

10 Practical Tips for Making Transitions

  1. Use songs and clean up routines to give a heads up for transitions when working with little ones.
  2.  Have young students bring a preferred object from the classroom with them.
  3.  Have the teacher give a heads up verbally (or with their visual schedule) to students a few minutes before the session is to start. Let them prepare for making a transition.
  4.  See if the teacher will try having students finish the current activity and sit in a waiting chair to be ready to transition.
  5.  Stop by on the way back with the prior student to wave and say you are next, giving them a little warning that a transition is coming.
  6.  Use your photo on their schedule instead of a generic speech symbol.
  7.  Use a token board, just for transitioning, that lets them choose a preferred short activity when they arrive successfully.
  8.  Always start and end with a preferred activity to make the speech room a very preferred place.
  9.  Wait until they complete the current activity in the room before making a request to leave.
  10.  Show up to get the child with a preferred activity (or a visual for the first activity) to let them see what they will be doing first.

Meeting Communication Needs

Imagine feeling anxious about changes while having no way to communicate and no idea what will be happening next. Scary thought, right?

What might you want to be saying in this situation?

Even easier, what do your verbal students say when you go to pick them up and they are involved in an activity? This is a great way to decide what your non-verbal student may want to communicate.

Just don’t expect this to work miracles as you show up at the classroom next session with your visual for him to point to. Visuals work, but they need to be taught. How to do this?

How to Teach Visuals for Making Transitions

How about starting on a practical, visual level to learn that a change is coming?

Let your student play with one of the toys he likes. Not the most highly preferred, but something he likes. After a short time, get out the storage container for the toy and an ‘all done’ or ‘clean up symbol’ on it.

Have your visual request symbol ready (ex. Wait a minute.) and prompt the child to point to it before strong emotions begin.  Give the toys back, but set a timer for a minute. When the timer goes off, indicating time is up, the toys have to be cleaned up.

If you are using a visual schedule, or a first/then board, the toys can be an option to request again after some work is done. With enough practice in varied situations, your student can learn to request, “Just a minute. please?” This lets your student finish what he is doing before making a transition. It’s important to teach our students with autism the same kind of language that their verbal peers use.

What has worked best to help your students with autism transition easily?


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I’m Linda, an SLP who loves helping you build effective communication skills for your students using strategies and visuals. Pictures are time consuming, so let me make your life easier!

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