Autism and Transitions: How Time Timer Can Help

Autism and Transitions: How Time Timer Can Help


Transitions, or changes from one activity or setting to another, can be challenging for individuals with autism, affecting their ability to navigate daily tasks and major life changes smoothly. Understanding the relationship between autism and transitions and providing these individuals with the right tools can help empower them to be confident and independent. Here, we’ll learn more about transitions, autism, and how teachers, parents, and others can support this critical life skill.  

Why Is Difficulty with Transitions Common in People With Autism? 

People with autism often have more of a need for predictability and routine than those without autism. Changes can disrupt their sense of security, leading to stress or anxiety. These individuals may have more challenges when they don’t know what’s coming next. 

Many individuals with autism also have rigid thought processes and prefer structured environments where expectations are clear. When a pattern of activity is interrupted, they may feel upset. Transitions, by nature, introduce uncertainty and variability, which can be particularly challenging to process and accept.   

Examples of Difficult Transitions for Autistic Individuals

A transition is any time someone has to move from one activity, routine, or setting to another. The relationship between autism and transitions often involves difficulty with: 

  • Transitions between daily activities: Do you wonder why transitions are difficult for autistic students? Switching from one activity to another, like moving between subjects, changing classroom activities, or going to lunch and back, can be stressful without clear cues and a predictable schedule.  
  • Transitions between different parts of the day: Changes in the structure of the day, such as transitioning from home to school in the morning, can be disruptive and may require time to adjust. For adults with autism, difficulty with transitions between home, commuting, and work is common. 
  • Transitions to new locations: Visiting new or infrequent locations, such as a doctor's office or a new shopping center, involves unfamiliarity and unpredictability, which can provoke anxiety.  
  • Big life changes: Significant life transitions, like moving to a new neighborhood or progressing from middle school to high school, involve numerous adjustments in routine and environment, and can pose substantial challenges. 

Benefits of Successful Transitions 

Understanding and implementing transition strategies for autism can significantly enhance an individual’s daily functioning and overall quality of life. Here are some specific benefits. 

Reduce the Amount of Transition Time

By learning effective autism transition strategies, individuals can decrease the time it takes to switch between activities, which minimizes the period of potential stress and anxiety associated with transitions. Less time spent in transition means more time available for productive and enjoyable activities and a smoother flow throughout the day. 

Increase Appropriate Behavior During Transitions

Predictable routines and clear expectations help reduce feelings of uncertainty and discomfort, which can trigger behavioral issues. With established transition techniques, individuals are more likely to engage in appropriate behaviors during changes in activity or setting. When someone knows what to expect and feels prepared, the barrier between autism and transitions is removed.  

Rely Less on Adult Prompting

As individuals become more adept at managing transitions, they can become more independent and rely less on prompts from caregivers or educators. This independence boosts their confidence and self-esteem, which are important factors for personal development. The ability to navigate autism and transitions independently also takes the pressure off caregivers and teachers, allowing them to focus more on enrichment. 

Participate More Successfully in Activities

Helping individuals with autism transition between activities isn’t just for school. Effective transition skills are very valuable in environments like work, community events, and sports, where transitions can be frequent and settings vary widely. Successfully participating in these activities enhances educational experiences and social interactions, helping people with autism develop a well-rounded social life. 

So, how can you help prepare a child or adult on the autism spectrum for what's coming up next? Let’s go over the top strategies that teachers, caregivers, and others can use for all age groups.  

How to Help Kids with Autism Transition Between Activities

Transitions can be a source of significant stress for children with autism, who often thrive on routine and predictability. Thankfully, autism and transitions don’t have to be at odds with each other. Use these strategies for helping an autistic child with transitions.  

Building Consistent Routines  

Consistency is key in helping children with autism transition during day-to-day activities. Establishing and maintaining consistent routines minimizes surprises and helps children understand and predict their environment. This in turn makes these changes much smoother and less stressful for everyone involved. Consistent routines: 
  • Enhance predictability and security, reducing transitional stress. 
  • Help children develop a habit of moving between activities smoothly. 
  • Increase independence as children learn to follow routines without prompts. 

Setting Clear Expectations

Transition strategies for autism nearly always involve clearly communicating what is expected. Describing and reinforcing the behaviors you expect before, during, and after transitions helps remove ambiguities that can confuse or overwhelm children with autism. This can: 
  • Provide specific, concrete guidelines that children can follow. 
  • Reduce miscommunication and potential behavioral issues during transitions. 
  • Support consistent reinforcement of desired behaviors. 

Visual Schedules 

Visual schedules use pictures and symbols to represent the sequence of upcoming activities or the steps involved in a specific task. This visual representation helps children understand what to expect next, providing structure that can make transitions less intimidating and more manageable. This can: 
  • Reduce anxiety by showing what comes next. 
  • Help children prepare mentally for changes. 
  • Provide a reference that children can check independently, fostering a sense of control. 


Roleplaying is a dynamic way to help children with autism transition to new activities. By acting out transitions before they occur, they can practice the steps involved in a safe and controlled environment. This helps them become familiar with what will happen, reducing the uncertainty that can lead to stress during actual transitions. Roleplaying can: 
  • Allow children to practice transitions in a low-stress setting. 
  • Build confidence and familiarity with different scenarios. 
  • Encourage interactive learning, which can enhance understanding and retention. 

Visual Timers

Visual timers are one of the important transition objects for autism. These are tools that show the passage of time with a visual indicator, such as a disappearing red disc on a Time Timer® visual timer. They’re very effective for autism and transitions because they provide a clear and predictable signal of when the transition will occur, helping children prepare to move from one activity to another. They can also: 
  • Make the concept of time more concrete and understandable. 
  • Help children anticipate and prepare for the end of an activity. 
  • Reduce resistance to transitions by providing a non-verbal cue that is easy to understand. 

Rewards for Successful Transitions

Everyone likes prizes, and rewards can be a very effective way to encourage children with autism to engage positively during transitions. They provide immediate positive reinforcement for desired behaviors, making the connection between actions and outcomes clear. Even small incentives can: 
  • Enhance motivation by offering tangible or social rewards for managing transitions well. 
  • Reinforce positive behavior and help children associate transitions with positive experiences. 
  • Be tailored to individual preferences, making the reward personally meaningful and more impactful. 

Transition Strategies for Adults with Autism  

For adults with autism, difficulty with transitions can continue to pose challenges, especially as they enter new phases of life, such as going to college or entering the workforce. Yet adults and their support networks can work on new strategies for coping with these changes. 

Keeping Physical Spaces Organized

Maintaining a structured environment is as important for adults with autism as it is for children. A well-organized and predictable environment minimizes the uncertainties that typically trigger stress during changes in activity or setting. Keeping living and workspaces organized and clutter-free, establishing designated areas for work and relaxation, and maintaining a consistent schedule can enhance security and stability.  

Using Visual Aids 

Visual aids continue to be a powerful tool to help with autism and transitions into adulthood by providing clear and understandable cues. These aids can range from simple pictorial calendars to detailed diagrams depicting task sequences. Time Timer® visual timers can also continue to support productivity at work and transitions between tasks.  

Using Written Schedules and Planners 

Personal planning and time management are essential skills for adults. By providing a predictable structure, written schedules and planners allow adults with autism to transition between daily or weekly routines and manage their time with less stress. Individuals with autism can keep a daily planner or digital schedule and use checklists for complex activities that break them down into manageable tasks. 

Creating Support Systems

A strong support system is invaluable for helping adults with autism navigate transitions. This can include family members, friends, coworkers, or professionals who understand their needs and can provide emotional and practical support during challenging transitions. Adults with autism should identify key individuals in different areas of life who can offer support and develop communication strategies to ask for help. 

Practicing Mindfulness

Focused, calming practices like meditation or deep breathing help manage the anxiety and emotional upheaval that can accompany transitions. They aid in self-regulation, concentration, and mental clarity, all of which can make transitions easier. Incorporating mindfulness techniques, using smartphone apps for guidance, and going to in-person classes can all help build these skills.  

How Time Timer® Visual Timers Help With Transitions

The sometimes rough relationship between autism and transitions is something many teachers, caregivers, and autistic individuals themselves will have to overcome. It requires understanding, patience, and tailored strategies that respect the need for predictability and structure. With the right transition strategies for autism, caregivers and support networks can pave the way to developing critical skills, improving quality of life, and decreasing loneliness for individuals with autism.   

Time Timer® visual timers are an ideal tool to have in your toolkit. The patented disappearing disk is a powerful reminder for visual thinkers and those who learn differently and is proven to increase self-regulation in younger children. Check out the Time Timer® MOD + Dry Erase Board, which is especially useful for helping individuals with autism track what comes next and how long until it happens. Or explore our collection of timers to find the one that’s right for you.  


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