If you were asked to brainstorm all the words that you associate with ‘change’, what kind of words would come to mind? Adjectives such as ‘difficult’? Emotions such as ‘anxious’?
The truth is, most of us aren’t that keen on change. It takes us out of our comfort zone and places us somewhere unfamiliar….And while change is a normal and necessary part of life, children with speech and language difficulties or Autism can find it pretty terrifying.
I don’t just mean big changes like moving house, changing teachers or going somewhere new- everyday transitions can be equally baffling and scary.
How can we make it easier? How can we maintain some consistency in a fast-paced, ever changing school day?
1. Use simple, familiar language
First of all, it’s important to signal that a change is going to occur. But let’s really consider our language when we do this…
e.g “Ok it’s nearly time to tidy up but before we do that let’s wash our hands and then after that we’ll get ready for PE…”, etc, etc!
There’s a lot to process in this instruction- sequencing words such as ‘before’ and’ after’, vague time concepts such as ‘nearly’… For a child with difficulties understanding language, this could be an overload of information, causing them to feel more anxious!
However, if at every transition you used a similar phrase such as “Art is finished. Now it’s lunch time”, this is much more straight forward. The child knows what is happening and when it’s happening. You can accompany this with a visual such as a sign(e.g. the Makaton sign for ‘finished’)/symbols or photographs to visually reinforce understanding.
2. Visual timetables/timelines
I’m sure most of you reading this article have used visual timetables before and don’t need me to greatly elaborate on the process. But it’s important to consider that one size does not fit all...! We need to consider the needs of the child before we start printing and laminating copious amounts of symbols from twinkl/Boardmaker/Insert other software here….!
We’ve got to consider these things:
a) What representation of an activity will the child understand best- an object, a photograph, symbols..?
For some children, symbols or line drawings are too abstract. Maybe we need to start with objects of reference e.g. a fork to represent lunch, a book to represent carpet time, etc.
Other children respond well to photographs of themselves partaking in the routine e.g a photo of them sat on the carpet to represent registration.
B) How many transitions we visually display- Yes, it’s easier to lay the whole day out first thing in the morning, placing all the symbols on the timeline. But for some children this is a visual overload that then loses meaning.
For some children a ‘Now and Next’ style transition board is enough. Other children might be able to cope with 3 visuals- ‘First, next, then’. Some will be fine with the whole day laid out on the timeline.
Don’t forget- make the timeline portable! There’s nothing sadder than seeing a beautifully made visual that’s stuck to the wall and never used!
3. Transition songs
Ah YouTube…It has a child-friendly song for just about everything! A quick search and you can soon find plenty of songs that can be used to signal transitions…From good morning songs, tidy up tunes, lunch time beats to home time hits! It’s a fun and simple way to support the structure of the day.
4. Traffic light system
Possibly one of the simplest visual aids to make, requiring only 3 coloured circles- green, amber and red. These can easily be attached to a lanyard so that they are always to hand!
The idea is that each colour represents a different stage of the activity. You show the child the coloured circles to make them aware of what stage of the activity they are in.
Green means go- the activity is starting.
Amber means getting ready to finish– the child is made aware that the activity is ending soon. You don’t have to put a specific time on this (it can be difficult to quantify when an activity will end!) but make sure it is no longer than 5 minutes.
Red means stop- the activity is finished.
A very simple but effective visual!
5. Social stories
You may have noticed that certain parts of the day seem to cause more anxiety than others…Maybe it’s P.E; moving rooms might cause confusion. Maybe it’s lunch time; the child might struggle to socially interact with their peers in the playground.
Once we have identified aspects of the school day that may cause issues for the child, we can write them a tailor-made
social story. The story should explain the situation to the child, describe what might happen and how they can respond. Use photographs, symbols or the child’s own drawings to personalise the story even more!
Small transitions occur frequently in our daily lives. As adults, we are accostumed to them and we take them in our stride. In fact, we hardly even realise they are occcuring at times- How often do we go into auto-pilot as we move between places or activities?!
Let’s take a minute in the busy school day to consider how we can support our students to begin to experience these seamless transitions. Choose one of the transition tricks above to start with and then persevere! Nothing works over-night; using an approach consistently will help the child to understand the purpose of the transition trick and to link it with changes in their daily routine.