Akron speech therapists

Transition Talk: How Speech Therapists Help Kids With Autism Move From One Thing to the Next

Humans are creatures of habit. Even if you’re a person who welcomes change, the fact is, it takes more effort than continuing on as you were. Our speech therapists understand that for a child, being asked to stop one thing and start another (i.e., “a transition”) is a really common trigger for problematic behaviors. This is especially true for children on the autism spectrum, who rely so heavily on routine to understand and feel comfortable with the world around them.

The anxiety and frustration of a transition can be especially overwhelming if a child is transitioning from a preferred activity (something we like and want to be doing) to a non-preferred activity (something we’d rather not be doing, even if it’s necessary).

As speech therapists, we’ve seen trouble with transitions manifest in a number of ways, including:

  • Avoidance
  • Distraction
  • Resistance
  • Negotiation
  • Full-blown meltdown

Although it can seem like the child is simply overwhelmed by their emotions (and sometimes, they are), the ABA therapists at Therapy & Wellness Connection recognize that these are often the responses the child has learned to have been successful in helping them delay or avoid a transition.

For example, if a child is told it’s time to turn off their show because it’s time for school and the child has a complete meltdown, that response might initially be one born of powerful emotions of anger and frustration. However, if that response worked in getting them to delay turning off their show, that child will be more likely to do it again. How the adults respond can have a big impact in whether that behavior is repeated.

This is something our ABA therapists work on a lot, but our speech therapists do as well.

Speech Therapists Help With Transition Planning

Transitions occur naturally and frequently throughout the day – at home, school, work and other settings. But for children with autism, the reactions can be more extreme because the world tends to be a very confusing place. The need for predictability and sameness is often what helps them to feel rooted and safe.

There are a number of ways that speech therapists can collaborate with ABA therapists, occupational therapists, other professionals and parents to help transitions flow easier.

Some transition plans we’ve found effective in speech therapy sessions and other settings:

  • Prepare the child for what is going to happen next. Tell them what you’re doing, where you’re going and for how long. Too often, there is a presumption that because the child isn’t speaking/communicating, they don’t understand what’s going on. Doing your best to clue them in on what to expect can go a long way in reducing problem behaviors during transitions.
  • Give warnings. Make it a countdown. Give them time to mentally prepare. A visual timer can be especially helpful with this.
  • Use pictures. Social stories. Visual calendars. Approaching the transition with tactile and visual cues verses solely verbal ones, kids will have an easier time knowing what to expect – and what is expected of them.
  • Use a transition object. This is another tactile approach that can be effective in preparing a child for what is next. A favorite toy or some other security object can make moving from one activity or place to the next a bit easier. The object can come with them, but it may need to find “a parking spot” somewhere in their line-of-sight if there is a concern that it could be a distraction.

Understanding the unique triggers for each child and planning our responses in advance can help reduce a child’s anxiety and problem behaviors and promote more successful transitions.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Cleveland. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email

Additional Resources:

Why Do Kids Have Trouble With Transitions? By Katherine Martinelli, Child Mind Institute

More Blog Entries:

Top 10 Causes of Child Speech Delays and Language Problems, Sept. 15, 2019, Akron Speech Therapists’ Blog