Empowering People, Launching lives

Transitions: big to small

Author: Matt Wicks, Outreach Consultant


7th September 2022 | 3 mins read

From getting the bus to work to moving house, we face transitions every day. Whilst the size of the transition will vary, they all result in a change of environment. Transitions can be challenging for some autistic people who find those changes difficult. How much it affects them could be down to their learning history or what skills they have to deal with it. Here we will look at the different levels of transition before looking at some support strategies and ways to help.

Examples of transitions

Big – Big transitions represent a large change in someone’s life. Examples could be starting school, moving schools or moving house

Medium – Medium transitions are things that don’t happen every day, such as moving to a new class or getting a new teacher

Small – Small transitions happen regularly every day. This could be moving from one lesson to the next or finishing a favourite activity.


Some individuals with autism may engage in behaviours that challenge when presented with a transition. Even a seemingly small transition such as finishing one activity and moving onto the next. They might become upset, agitated or angry.

Many autistic people find changes in routine challenging and it can trigger anxiety. Even for the smallest transitions it’s a good idea to have strategies in place to make it as smooth as possible.


Strategies to support


To create a support strategy for any transition it is essential to understand the individual. If they find it difficult to transition from a specific activity it is important to understand why. Was there anything in the lead up to the transition that led to behaviours that challenge? Was there anything in the environment that increased their anxiety? Fully analysing the behaviour will give you a good idea of why the behaviour is occurring and help you to identify the strategies you could use to support the individual.

When thinking about putting plans in place to help with transitions there are some key principles to consider. These principles also apply to any intervention to reduce behaviours that challenge or teach new skills:


Plan ahead – be proactive, not reactive

  • This means you should be putting plans in place in the anticipation of challenges occurring. Supporting individuals so they know what’s happening will help reduce their anxiety and the likelihood of behaviours that challenge occurring. Take a look at the resources section below to find examples of how to do this. The more you do before the event, the better.


Individualise – no strategy is ‘one size fits all’

  • Tailor everything you do to the individual that you are supporting. It should be based on their needs and designed around their interests. If they love colouring, why not offer that as an interim activity before an undesirable task? Or for bigger transitions help them colour in a visual story that explains their new house move, sibling etc.
  • There is no quick fix or go to strategy that will work for all children. Plans must be completely personalised


Adapt the environment – set the individual up to be successful

  • Finally, we should always be focusing on the environment around the individual. This could be the physical environment, the interpersonal relationships within the environment or teaching materials used. Can you make changes to support the individual in the transition? Is there a way to include their interests or to break it down into more manageable chunks? If everything in the environment is set up well, to meet the needs of the individual, behaviours that challenge will be much less likely.


What can be done to support transitions?

Find links to all resources mentioned in this next section at the bottom of the post.


For ‘small transitions’

For smaller transitions there are different ways to support the individual with knowing what’s coming next. This could be a visual schedule or now and next boards which clearly outline what is happening and when. This can help reduce anxiety around sudden changes.


For ‘medium transitions’

For slightly larger transitions, a visual story might be relevant to explain a new change. By breaking it down into language/images that the individual can understand it will be less of a shock when change starts happening.


For ‘big transitions’

Where possible, it’s a good idea to get the person used to the new environment (places and people) before the change happens. Visiting their new school or home and building relationships with new teachers can ease any transitions. Person-centred planning is crucial to bigger transitions to ensure that the individual’s best interests are captured in the transition.


These are all just examples and you may find that a combination of different techniques is what you need.


Downloadable resources

All resources mentioned in this blog can be found in the resource hub.


If you’re interested in finding out more about behaviour and how it works, take a look at our online training courses. Alternatively you can watch my Lunch and Learn session from earlier in the year for more detail on transitions.


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