Helping Individuals with Autism to be Successful During Transition Times

Throughout our day, we all have times that we must stop one activity and start another. It is a natural part of our day to have to change our routine and we are often required to be able to do so successfully. Individuals with autism may have a greater difficultly with changes in routine. They may have a difficult time transitioning from one activity to another (Sevin, J., Rieske, R., Matson, J., 2015). Often individuals with autism, have a greater need for predictability in routine and may have a challenging time understanding what activity will come next (Flannery & Horner, 2004). Some individuals with autism may exhibit challenging behavior when a preferred activity or pattern of behavior is stopped to begin something new that may be less desirable. Thankfully, there are many evidenced-based strategies that you can use to help individuals with autism successfully transition during times of changing activities. These strategies focus on helping the individual prepare for the change as well as offer support during the transition and can be use across all environments (e.g. home, school, and community). These strategies can be implemented in a variety of ways including verbally, auditory, and visually (Hume, K., 2008).

  • Priming—This is a preventative strategy that is used to prepare an individual for a particular upcoming situation or task. (Koegel et al., 2003). You should let them know what is going to happen beforehand. For example, “We are going to take a bath in two minutes. Remember after bath time you get to have a snack.”
  • Priming can be done verbally or with visuals.
  • Visual Schedule—Use a daily visual schedule to show what order specific activities will occur. If there is a change in schedule you can switch out the pictures and use the priming strategy to prepare them for the change and what to expect.
  • Timer—A timer can be extremely helpful during transition times. You can use an audio or visual timer so the individual can see how much time they have left before the transition is going to occur.
  • Use of Other Visuals—it may be helpful to pictures and/or objects to help the individual before and during the transition. For example, showing a walking sign to help the individual to walk during the transition instead of running.
  • First/Then Language (Premack Principle)—You can use this strategy to state the order of activities, often a less desirable one first, then something preferred. For example, first math, then recess. This can be done verbally or in combination with a visual.
  • Positive Reinforcement—If the individual transitions successfully from one activity to another without engaging in challenging behavior it can be helpful to use behavior specific praise and tangible reinforcement if needed. Praise throughout the whole transition. For example, “You are doing a great job walking in the hall,” or “I really like how you are picking up your toys so we can start your bath.”

Transitioning from one activity to another is a skill we simply can’t avoid. Transitions are required throughout our lifetime at home, school, community, and places of employment. The goal of these strategies is to prepare the individual for the transition by making it more predictable. Positive reinforcement should be used for successful transitions to make transition times a more positive experience for the individual (Hume, K., 2008).



Flannerly, K. & Horner, R. (1994). The relationship between predictability and problem behavior for students with severe disabilities. Journal of Behavioral Education, 4, 157-176.

Hume, K. (2008). Transition Time: Helping individuals on the autism spectrum move successfully from one activity to another. The Reporter 13(2), 6-10.

Koegel, L.K., Koegel, R. L., Frea, W., Green-Hopkins, I. (2003). Priming as a method of coordinating educational services for students with autism. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 34(3), 228-235.

Sevin, J., Rieske, R., Matson, J. (2015). A review of behavioral strategies and support considerations for assisting persons with difficulties transitioning from activity to activity. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 2, 329-342.