Why can transitions be so difficult for children with autism? Parents and teachers often have a hard time getting our children with autism to transition from their preferred activity to the activity we want them to do. For instance, your child might be playing in the sink with bubbles and now you need them to get dressed. Transitions from preferred activities to your agenda can result in problem behaviors. Your child might protest the request by refusing, falling to the floor, or other tantrum-like behavior.
We know that giving cues that a transition is coming (“We are going to clean up when the timer dings”) and reinforcing the transition (“If you clean your puzzle up, then we will listen to your favorite song while we get dressed”) can help, but sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough! They might protest even though you gave them cues to predict that the transition is coming up or have reinforced the transition.
Why is that?
It has to do with the density and magnitude of the reinforcement. In activities that your child prefers, they often are reinforced without outside help. For example, watching their favorite video on the iPad is so rewarding that they independently choose to continue the activity. Other activities may require more outside reinforcement because the activity itself isn’t rewarding enough to engage your child or make him want to choose it over a preferred activity. Washing dishes may not be a reinforcing activity on its own, however with outside help (mom singing a fun song, playing in dish soap bubbles, positive feedback throughout the activity, a reward for completing the chore, etc.) it can become engaging. Increasing how reinforcing an activity is can minimize your child’s resistance to transitioning to it. The best way to keep them engaged in your agenda is to provide direct access to reinforcement which means pairing the child’s preferred activity with the activity you want them to engage in to allow for continuous reinforcement. For example, allowing the child to watch the iPad video while washing the dishes.
If transitions are difficult for you at home, please contact your BCPS staff!