How To Help Your Special Needs Child With Transitions

How to help your special needs child with transitions

Easing Transitions for Sensory Children Strategies to solve sticky situations, part five

Returning to the discussion about How to help your special needs child with transitions.

Eventually we will resume life that is, if not precisely what we were used to, a “new normal.” And we will still need strategies to help our children win the struggle with transitions. Of course, life is not divided so neatly into “before” and “after” — I hope you will be able to make good use of the strategies no matter where we are in terms of quarantine and recovery.

Proper planning is key to smooth transitioning.

For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.”
— Benjamin Franklin
In this post, we’re going to look at specific ideas and suggestions for the fourth category of transition strategies: Management. As always, you’ll need to experiment to figure out which strategies work best for your family and which you’ll want to build on/adapt to your individual family’s needs.

Transition Management strategies 

You need to be in control of the transition in order to make it go smoothly for your special needs child.
Here are some strategies you can use to make transitions successful:

Advance strategies

 Plan the day to avoid too many transitions

– After school, you would like to go to the bank, the grocery store, the shoemaker, and then the playground. This is not a good idea — there are too many transitions, especially for a child who has already been in school all day.
– Perhaps going to the playground first to allow your child to let off steam after being on good school behavior all day, and then running one errand, would ultimately be a wiser choice.

 Make your child’s preferences part of your plan

– On a weekend day, even though the additional pressure of school is not an issue, you don’t want to overload your child either.
– When you plan the day, you might want to begin with the activities that are the most challenging for your child — he’ll be well-rested and better able to cope.
– Also take into account what she loves to do and what she doesn’t enjoy, and try to alternate types of activities.
– Either plan to stop at the playground in the middle of errands, or at least build in time for sensory breaks.

 Build extra time into the schedule

– Always allow extra time so you don’t get upset by the possibility of being late, which makes any situation worse. The additional time and peace of mind help you stay calm and in control at all times. And when you are calmer, your child is too.
– Similarly, if you’re rushed and anxious, your child will be as well.
– By not leaving things until the last minute, you give your child extra time to adjust.

 Prepare ahead of time

– Do as much as possible ahead of time so you keep your stress level as low as possible. For example, keep your diaper bag stocked, as well as a bag of necessities for your older child.

 Bring supplies

– Pack distractions for any wait time. Standing in line at the supermarket will be easier on both of you if your child has a small fidget toy or book to distract him. If you forget to bring an object, play a game such as ‘Simon Says’ that doesn’t need any props.
– Pack food and drinks; you don’t want to have to start looking for a store if your child needs a snack right away.

In-the-moment strategies

 Get your child’s attention before each transition

– To initiate each transition, first get your child’s attention. Make eye contact; kneel or bend down to his level; put a hand on her shoulder or arm; speak in a clear, slow, calm voice; make your expectations clear; and ask him to repeat what you just said.

 Provide plenty of warning

– As discussed in the previous post, provide a lot of fair warning. “We are leaving in 10 minutes.” not “We are leaving right now!!!”

 Let the timer run the show

– Don’t be the bad guy; as discussed above, use a timer (or the alarm on your cell phone) set for the intervals you decide. This heads off conflict between you and your child.
– Note: this means that you also need to obey the timer; be ready to move when it goes off.
– Another advantage of using a timer: it’s an extra tool to motivate children who are slow movers. If they beat the timer, they can earn a star (see below).

 Involve your child in (simple) decisions whenever possible

– As discussed previously, involve and engage your child, offering limited options: “We have five minutes left to play; would you rather swing or slide?”

 Be understanding as well as firm; also, draw your child’s attention to something positive

– If your child continues to be reluctant during transitions, be understanding but firm, and also mention a positive aspect of what happens next. “I know you don’t like to leave the playground, but remember, we will come back again tomorrow. Now it’s time to leave and you can push the shopping cart on the way to the grocery store.”

 Make the transition fun

– Again, engage your child: “How fast can you put your coat on? Can you hop like a bunny to the gate?” The more fun and appealing the transition is, the less stressful and anxiety-provoking it is.

 A transition is a perfect time for a sensory break

– An additional benefit of a fun, active transition is that it becomes a sensory break using movement to reset your child’s body and brain. Fun, energetic movement, such as hopping, skipping, jumping, running, bear-walking, crab-walking, marching to a beat, etc., can change his mood and attitude quickly.

 Don’t let your child get hangry

– Be aware of your child’s intake. Especially if she’s just been running around the playground, she may be thirsty or hungry. Offer a snack and a drink before hangry happens.

 Maintain consistency

– As much as possible, try to stick with the schedule and routines that you have developed, even during school vacations.
– Help your child get a good night’s sleep — even neurotypical individuals have a hard time coping with difficult daily situations without enough sleep; your sensory child can all the more easily become overwhelmed without the reserves necessary to meet daily challenges.


Do you struggle to manage transitions or is it almost second nature for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, let me know there or via email what topics you would like to discuss or hear more about.

I hope you enjoyed this post on how to help your special needs child with transitions. Feel free to share or quote from this blog (with attribution, please, and if possible, a link), and to repost on social media.
I look forward to hearing from you!

All the best,

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