Why Our Fort Myers ABA Therapists Use Countdowns for Transitions
Change is an inevitable part of life. But for children on the autism spectrum, transitions can be TOUGH. Our Fort Myers ABA therapists have strategies to help make this easier. One of those is a countdown.
But first, it’s important to understand the why of transition triggers.
What makes transitions so difficult? For a lot of kids, it’s because transitioning from one activity or focus to another can seem sudden. It can also mean leaving an activity that is preferred for one less preferred. Plus, many kids on the spectrum have an inherent need for predictability. Not knowing what is coming next can also set off one’s anxiety, elicit big emotions, and trigger a seemingly outsized response.
As ABA therapists, we are always studying the ABC’s of behavior. That is Antecedent (what comes before the behavior), Behavior (what exactly is the behavior) and Consequence (how is the behavior reinforced). In altering big reactions to transitions, we can alter the antecedent, teach replacement behaviors and reinforce with positive consequences when kids transition calmly.
The idea is to prepare the individual before the transition occurs and support them during the transition.
ABA Therapists Antecedent Strategies for Transitions
Antecedent strategies are those we put in place before the transition. Although we won’t always know when circumstances or situations may change, we can help kids prepare for those transitions that can be anticipated. This is where countdowns, visual schedules, and visual timers are so effective. This is a doable strategy for parents to implement as well.
Some ideas for initiating a countdown or timer for transitions:
- Offer a verbal warning that the transition is going to happen. (“In five minutes, we’re going to get in the car and leave for school,” “In two minutes, we’re going to turn off the television.” “When the little hand is on the 7, game time will be over.”)
- Show them what comes next. Use first-then language. Visual schedules and timers can be a huge help with this as well.
- Give several updates for how much time is left until the transition takes place. Recognize for many kids on the spectrum (kids in general!), the concept of time is a tough one. In some cases, they may need minute-by-minute updates (i.e., “Five more minutes until…” “Four more minutes until…”).
- Follow through with your instructions. Be consistent. Giving in to a meltdown is ultimately only going to be confusing and reinforces unexpected/challenging behaviors.
Remember that while verbal cues are sufficient in preparing typically-developing kids for transitions, those on the spectrum may truly need those visual cues and timers to help them truly understand and successfully transition.
Behavior Replacement Strategies
Not every transition is going to be smooth sailing. We expect that. But we can reduce challenging behaviors by giving them the tools to replace them with expected behaviors.
What’s important to keep in mind here is that in its most basic form, behavior is communication. As ABA therapists, we have to think about, “Ok, what is the child trying to communicate when he runs/cries/bangs his head/falls to the floor?” Our goal is to not only reduce the occurrence of unexpected behaviors, but empower these children to communicate their needs and wants in ways that are expected and socially appropriate.
Some tools might include:
- Requesting. We can teach kids to ask for what they want (i.e., “Can I have one more minute, please?” “I don’t want to go inside.”). They can also ask for accommodations, like bringing a fidget toy or a stress ball. That doesn’t mean they always are going to get it, but we do always let them know they are heard.
- Self-regulation techniques. These are things like deep breaths, certain stims, counting to 10 (or higher), etc. These are things that are within their control, even if the bigger situation is not.
When your child is able to transition with appropriate and expected behaviors, pour on the praise!
Keep in mind the goals are to:
- Reduce the amount of time needed for each transition.
- Increase expected behaviors during transitions.
- Rely less and less on prompting during transitions.
- Participate more successfully in academics, social situations, self care, etc.
If you have questions about how to implement strategies to ensure smoother transitions at home, school, and in community outings, our Fort Myers ABA therapists can help.
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy, ABA therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy in Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Transition Time: Helping Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Move Successfully from One Activity to Another, By Kara Hume, PHD, Indiana Resource Center on Autism, Indiana University Bloomington
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FOCUS Therapy ABA Talks: Hosted by Our ABA Team! July 31, 2021, FOCUS ABA Therapy Blog