Promoting Smoother Transitions

Transitions are an inevitable aspect of life as they occur throughout the day and in all settings – at home, school, work, and in the community. According to Merriam-Webster, a transition is defined as a “passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another: CHANGE.” Transitions typically require an individual to: 1) stop an activity, 2) move locations, and 3) begin something new. Transitions are difficult for many children, triggering undesired behaviors. Thus, it is critical to target transitions and add some ease to everyday life.

 Below are a few focal interventions often implemented:

1)      Priming – Priming occurs when a student is given the opportunity to preview activities or given information ahead of time. This promotes predictability. Depending on the student, priming could occur an entire day before the activity or shortly before the activity. An example of priming is when schools provide an opportunity for students to meet their teacher, see their classroom, and find out who is in their classroom before the first day of school.  

2)      Social Stories – Some students greatly benefit from incorporating social stories about transitions and/or unexpected events. Social stories can be used as a method for priming and preparing the student for what is going to happen, whether it is for an anticipated change (holidays, appointments), a day-to-day transition (brushing teeth, getting dressed), or major transitions (changing schools, becoming a sibling).



3)      Visual Schedules – Visual schedules incorporate pictures, text, and/or icons. It provides a student a schedule of what tasks and activities to expect throughout a certain time period (e.g., entire day, at school, after school, bedtime routine). If there is a change in the routine schedule, it is possible to use priming and the visual schedule to prepare the student for what is going to happen. For example, if grandma is coming over after lunch (something that typically does not happen routinely), then putting a picture of grandma after the lunch icon and telling the student “after lunch, grandma is coming.” A behavior therapist can help determine what type of visual schedule will best support your child as there are many different versions.                 

Tips and strategies to use at home and in the community:

          Try to plan ahead and provide cues before a transition is going to occur, whether it is simply “time for a bath after dinner” to practicing what happens at a birthday party before going to it (e.g., singing happy birthday, opening presents).

          Use a visual timer so the child can see how much time is left before the transition. There are many visual timer apps for smartphones/tablets ranging from free to $1.99 or one can be bought for $25-30 on Amazon.


          Use positive reinforcement (verbal praise) after transitions (e.g., “I love how you cleaned up and went to the table!”

          Provide adequate time for child to finish task or activity to prevent frustration of not being able to finish.

          Practice, practice, practice! 

In conclusion, with practice and support, transitions may become smoother! As a child improves with transitions, there will be a reduction in the amount of transition time required, how much prompting is required, less undesired behaviors and most importantly, increase more successful participation within daily life and in the community!




Hume. (2008). Transition Time: Helping Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Move Successfully

from One Activity to Another. The Reporter 13(2), 6-10.


Lupiani, N. (2014, December 29). Social Stories for Transitions & Unexpected Events. Retrieved



Ostrosky, M. M., Jung, E. Y., & Hemmeter, M. L. (n.d.). Elping Children Make Transitions

between Activities. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning.


Transition. (n.d.). Retrieved from