Quick Tip (transitioning): The Autism Files

Quick Tip (transitioning): The Autism Files

Mum, stop mumbling!

Quick Tip (Transitioning): Autism Files

Children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another.

When my son Michael was a toddler (before his diagnosis with autism at age 3) he would tantrum when I tried to finish one activity and move him to another.


One day he was playing in a kiddies playground and when I wanted to leave, he refused. I called his name several times with no response. I came inside the play area and told him we had to leave – no response. I tried to hold his hand and walk him out – he scuttled off, crying, and scurried high up into the slippery slide tube. After about fifteen minutes of getting nowhere fast, I had to climb up into the play equipment and physically carry him, kicking, screaming and crying, out of the playground, on my shoulders. It was not a good look.

What was the problem?

1.  At first he was so engrossed in playing that he was not even listening to me speak (he couldn’t hear me).
2.  When he did hear me, he didn’t understand the words I was using (my sentences were too complex);
3.  I hadn’t given him any warning that we would be leaving soon.
4.  I had not provided a motivation for shifting to the new activity.

What to do?

  • Keep your speech simple with young ASD children.
  • Five minutes before the activity needs to end, give a simple warning. Make sure the child is listening by going right up to them and getting down to their level and speak slowly, clearly and in very few words eg. ‘Michael, going soon’. Use sign language if you need to.
  • Give another warning 2 minutes before the finish.
  • When it is time to leave, approach the child again, look at them and say ‘finished’ (preferably signing with hand and thumb).
  • Provide a fun activity or extra special toy (that is only used on special occasions, such as in the car) as a reward for transitioning without tantrums.
  • You can use the first/then strategy (say to the child: first car, then special activity/toy). This is a clear, simple verbal instruction.

This approach is a guideline only and can be adapted to your circumstances. Wishing you happier transitions.