Transitions and Your Special Needs Child


Transitions can feel like drops of sunshine or drops of rain on your child’s day.  The success of a transition can be the difference between basking in the glow of that sun or being doused.  How the day goes often depends on how well your child is prepared to transition from one activity, event or happening to the next.  Surprises are not a friend to people on the spectrum of developmental disabilities and they certainly offer little in positive returns for you. 

You may feel that preparation for ALL transitions is not something that easily fits into your schedule, however, it is integral in terms of supporting a healthy family lifestyle.  It may seem like an overwhelming task at first, but when you make this prep a part of your weekly routine, you’ll find that not only can it fit seamlessly or at least fairly square, but the improvement in your child’s behavior and overall stress level, will be all the encouragement you’ll need to stay on it!

Schedules give your child, and yourself, structure.  They allow for predictability and provide comfort. I have worked with a parent who schedules everything for her child and I have seen how well this practice works.  Written on a calendar, the events and times for each day of the week are listed. Each day this child checks the large calendar on the wall and knows exactly what is to occur and when to expect it.  This works for this parent’s family because the child can read well enough to comprehend.  You will need to know how your child communicates and receives information best and adjust the style of your schedules accordingly.  

Talking about each event prior to it happening is also a critical element; providing reinforcement and confirmation.  Understanding and internalizing the schedule will greatly reduce your child’s anxiety over “what’s next?” 

If a weekly calendar is too complex for your child, a daily visual schedule might be the right fit.  Create a flexible schedule including daily routines like, e.g., brushing your teeth, along with a space for e.g., visiting Grandma’s after school.  Or you can break your day down into morning, afternoon and night and provide separate visual schedules for each that indicate routines along with weekly events.  

Transitions can work without visual indicators but it is still necessary to provide fair warning of change.  For example, if your child is playing and dinner time is around the corner, you would benefit from giving a couple of timed warnings leading up to the next activity.  So if you imagine dinner to be in 15 minutes then you might tell your child that they have 10 minutes left to play and that dinner is next.  At 5 minutes you can, again, make your child aware that a transition is coming.  Using a timer is a clear visual indicator for your child. 

If they do not understand time then there are alternatives such as timers that show an area of color gradually disappearing until the time is up.   There are also sand timers that have different timed amounts of sand.  

In addition, I suggest, if needed, using a first/then card that shows, ‘ first play then dinner.’  If you want your child to clean up their play area, you might start sooner with your warnings.  Here you can use a first/then/next cue card; ‘first play, next clean up, then dinner.’

As always, consistency is as essential in all of what one does as a parent and it is no different in the art of successful transitions.  Active ignoring when your child isn’t listening is very helpful when transitions hit the skids. 

This includes, not showing your cards when it comes to being pushed to anger or upset and, staying steady and unemotional if your child becomes defiant.  Eventually things will calm down and go your way if you are steadfast, patient, limit your language to simple directions repeated every few minutes and remain composed.  

If you have questions, as always, please email me.  And if you would like me to work with you to help your child I am available for consultation.  

Peace and Keep Rising!

Published by riseup20

I am a retired teacher with a creative bent and I am excited to bring attention and assistance to parents and caregivers of children with special needs. Mark

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