Battling Tricky Transitions Doesn't Have to be Difficult!

Kids with learning disabilities like routines. It gives them a sense of predictability in a world that can be scary, unnerving, and uncertain. Because of this, transitions can often become a problem.

So…what are transitions?


Transitions are when a child or student goes from one activity or project to another. Often, these kids will lock into the activity they were already performing and not be at all happy about going on to the next one.


This can result in fits, pouting, imploding, exploding, questioning, complaining, delay tactics, and a host of other similarly related negative behaviors. Of course, this isn’t pleasant for the student, teacher, or parent.

It’s hard to believe, but kids will even kick up a fuss when they transition from an unpleasant activity to a pleasant activity! They “lock” into whatever they are doing and refuse to budge…no matter what the activity might be.





A few years ago, we had a student with this problem. Every activity change resulted in grumbling, fussing, and sometimes outright fits. I’ll never forget how this happened one beautiful spring morning when I was showing a prospective family our facility.


As we strolled into Kevin’s classroom, he was happily working on his math assignment and greeted us with a smile. It was almost time for board games, something he always looked forward to and became excited over. He would often nag us and ask when it was time for board games.


But when it was time to change activities and do board games, he got very agitated. “This is ridiculous,” he kept saying. “I never get to do anything fun around this place.”


It took a few minutes to get Kevin transitioned and settled into playing Connect Four with one of his buddies. And…you guessed it…when it was time for lunch, he again started complaining about how ridiculous we were to ask such things of him…even though he was more than ready to fill his hungry stomach.


So, how do you help a child or student transition from one activity to the next? It’s not always easy, because every child is different, and what works for one child might not work for another. But following is a list of things you can do to help out this frustrating situation.




1. Use a visual timer with the sound turned off. You can download a visual timer in your phone app for free. It shows a picture and a moving scale as time goes by. The student is able to watch the timer and have a heads-up that a new activity is about to start.

2. Several times before the activity change, give a verbal reminder. “Kevin, board games will start in ten minutes,” will help him prepare for the change. I know this one is hard to do if you have a class full of students, so it’s perfectly fine to assign this job to an aide or to another student who can keep track of time.

3. Post a class or day schedule on the wall in bright colors so the student will know when each class change or activity change will occur. This can be done at home as well. It’s easier to post a schedule on the wall and discuss it as well as adhere to it than face constant meltdowns.

4. Find tokens to use such as poker chips, buttons, or pennies. Two minutes before an activity change, hand the student a token. This is a physical reminder that a change is about to happen and to be prepared for it.




5. Reward your child or student when transitions are smooth. You can have a grab bag, star chart, give free time, or come up with any reward that works. Verbal praise is often enough.


Transitions don’t have to be brutal. If you can implement some of these changes, your child or student will be happier and that results in a happier home or school.

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