Transitions are difficult for many students on the autism spectrum. Teachers and caregivers can attempt to ease transitions in a number of ways. Clarifying time limits, using timers and clearly showing expectations can help. In some cases, even more is needed. Many times visual supports offer an additional source of input that can be beneficial to students.  In addition to visual supports, using words to provide reassurance, preparing students for transitions and utilizing objects can ease challenges. If you find that you need to support students in the area of transitioning from activity to activity, try some of these ideas.


Use visual supports do the talking for you. Visual supports can take many forms. For example, pictures icons, photos, written words or environmental cues can be considered visual supports. First, you can start by showing a topic board with pictures of various activities that will occur during the lesson. Be sure to include an indication of when the lesson or activity will be over.  

Another way visual supports can be used to aid transitions is to a make a simple contract with a “First, Then” board. The “First, Then” board can be used to show the non-preferred item first, then a preferred item. The student would see that first one activity happens, then the second, typically more preferred activity, happens after that. Sometimes, just seeing that the activity will happen makes it more concrete.


A third way to use visual supports is to clarify the ending of an activity using a visual count-down board. Teachers and caregivers can use a visual count-down board to show the student that an activity is coming to an end. Take each icon off of the board one at a time at various times to prepare the student for the end of an activity. The count-down can be arbitrary and does not have to follow any specific time line.  It is simply a visual representation of the activity coming to an end.




You cannot underestimate the power of using reassuring words for kids. Transitions are difficult for students on the autism spectrum for a number of reasons. 

No matter what the reason, sharing with students that things will be ok will help. Teachers could start by giving the student a verbal 1-minute warning every time any activity is almost finished. The warning can be given by simply saying, “We have one more minute.” This needs to be paired with a visual cue such as picture icon with an image and words that say “one minute.”


A second strategy to consider is to use words to give choices. Think of ways to invite choice making into the transition. For example, “Do you want to walk to the next center or do you want to skip?”, “Which crayon color do you want to use when you get to the writing center?” or “Do you want to complete your work with a marker or a pencil?” are all ways to incorporate student choice. Teachers and caregivers could also reassure students that a fun activity will occur after the more difficult, less-preferred activity. The fun, more-preferred activity can be something quick and does not have to be a long drawn-out activity. Some students work at a slower pace than others. For them, the transition creates anxiety related to not finishing what they started or not being allowed to come back to a fun activity. They need reassurance that they can stop an activity and come back later.  For those students who might think that once the activity ends, they can never get back to it, your words and reassurance that they can come back to it later, can help. 


Preparing for transitions is critical. Clarify time limits and expectations ahead of time using schedules and visual directions. Use a poster to remind the adults in the classroom to clarify every transition. This can be done by always using simple concrete language (very few words) to prepare the student for the transition. For example, use a phrase similar to this after every activity:  “Reading is finished. (Pause.) Time for Math.”

Teachers can also prepare students for transitions by using direct instruction. Consider teaching them the skills they need through worksheets, role playing and practice.




Be prepared by having a topic board in each activity area for the student to communicate his or her wants and needs. If you have a student who is an eloper and who will attempt to dart away, be sure to guide the student to the next activity. Get in close proximity of the student before you make the request for them to transition so that you will decrease their opportunity to run to the wrong area.



Objects help a great deal when making transitions smoother. Let the student carry something or “help” you to the next activity (schedule cards, picture icons, or the materials for the lesson may work well) and establish what this item will be before the moment arrives. Teachers should also consider providing access to preferred items during transitions. Another idea using objects would be to help students tolerate unfavorable activities with the help of a transition bin. Before the next activity begins, try using a transition box or backpack with preferred items that the student likes. This box or backpack should be visible to the student before he or she comes to that area to work.  Seeing the box of items may motivate the student to transition to that area. Additionally, if needed, let the student hold something when they are sitting at the activity.  Develop a systematic plan to fade the object they are holding. For example, at first, allow them to hold it during the lesson, then have them place it down on the desk when they need to answer, next have them place it down during the lesson, eventually, give the student access to the item for 2 minutes after the lesson.


There you have it, a few strategies that can be used to make transitions a little easier for students. If you are looking for more information, my TpT resource Transition Assistance Visual Supports for Classroom Transitions  is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. If you have any more questions regarding my supports for transitions or behavior skills, contact me on Instagram.



Autism Classroom has materials for teaching social skills and other resources for Special Education & General Education settings. Many items are for students with developmental delays as well. Materials are designed for early elementary, special education & for teens with autism. This store takes pride in providing products to help set up & organize Special Education classrooms and home environments for educators and families.


April is Autism Awareness Month and here are a few links to resources with lesson plans and activities for Autism Awareness Month. 

Autism Awareness Bulletin Board Decorations (Free)  

Autism Awareness Bulletin Board Decorations Set 2 (Free)

Students Write Their Plans to Promote Autism Awareness

Autism New Jersey K-2 Lesson Plans

Autism New Jersey Grades 3-6  Lesson Plans

Autism Awareness Month Resources from FableVision Learning

Puzzle Design Digital Paper and Backgrounds

Autism Awareness Unit by the Autism Helper 

Angelfire Website

Good Friend Inc. Blogspot



It is true that people are still trying to figure out the complexities of individuals with autism and they still do not know what causes autism, but here are a few things we do know. Autism typically appears during the first three years of life. Even if a child is not diagnosed until later in life, when they look back, the symptoms were most likely there. Autism that affects the way an individual thinks and interprets the world around them.

Autism is more prevalent in boys than in girls.  It affects all races, ethnic groups, economic groups and social classes.

As the Autism Society of America once put it, "Autism interferes the areas of reasoning, social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically have deficiencies in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities. The disorder makes it hard for them to communicate with others and relate to the outside world. They may exhibit repeated body movements (hand flapping, rocking), unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resist any changes in routines. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present." (Autism Society of America)

It is good to know about autism so that teachers and parents are informed, but it is also good to begin to develop skills to help bring the individual with autism to their highest potential.