By transitions, we are speaking about the time in between one task to another, or the lengthy space between one unique big event to others, as a routine these ones occurring throughout the day.
Every parent of special needs children is aware that the very idea of ‘transitions’ is difficult to manage at times.
You are also aware, that once some patterns are set, it can be smooth sailing, at times.
Let’s examine a few things before we get to some helpful tips about transitions.
What is the issue about transitions?
- It can take so ……… long to move from one task to another!
That being said, it is actually that your child (no matter what their age), has difficulty processing change. Whether that change be big or small to most, it is approached with fear and anxiety. This can be debilitating when things need to be done, travelling, attending school and classrooms, self-care, unexpected trips out, store changes, caregivers change etc. Overall, it can deter or slow progress of the day or self-growth.
Why is transitioning a problem?
As they say ‘no one likes change’? Really? Without change there would be nothing new, or any progress. So, this is not really true. What’s truer is that we want the change, but within a predictable pace under our control. Now how is this different than special needs individuals?
Ok the answer lies in how the brain both perceives, processes and plans for the things.
As an example (neurotypical);
If you found yourself with a car problem suddenly and were unable to travel to your appointments/tasks in a given day, what would happen and how would that feel? Likely you would proceed to solving some of the dilemma such as having the car repaired, then cancelling the appointments/tasks. Now depending on the importance or complexity of those cancels, your personal stress response would vary. If highly important or complex, you may feel tense, angry, irritable or upset. If less important or complex you may feel calm, slightly anxious, or even relieved. There are layers to the steps and transition from this unexpected imposition to your life. There are also short-term solutions and longer-term considerations. Initially your brain experiences the sudden problem - which for most people would be emotional either anger or fear based – this is perception. After a short period of reflection this perception transitions to processing the problem which has a cascade of thoughts – this is processing. Then the processing turns into planning to solve the problem.
Now compare the above example with non-neurotypical;
Perhaps a passenger was with you and experienced the sudden change and problem. Either the car problem was found before you left your home or happened as you drove. Irregardless, the initial reaction would be the similar to yours – anger and fear; but with one distinct difference. The anger and fear would likely move into sustained action such as verbal outbursts, crying, physical aggression, self harm behaviours or exiting the situation. You may hear a barrage of criticisms or ‘what ifs’ or complaining about the situation. All of these functioning at the lower levels of brain meant to have limited attention during perception and to move on to processing. However, in this child, the processing part is disabled. This is due to the ’override mechanisms’ in their special needs brain that both inhibits the action of neurotransmitters to provide information and to calm the reaction, so that processing can begin. When is this state, no solutions or compromises are possible. Depending on the mental situation of the child’s needs, this can be the state that plays on for hours or even the rest of the day. Only temporary satiation may help such as a toy, mouth item, food, show on the ipad or singing for instance.
How do we move from here?
This is greatest secret we all want to know. BUT realistically, it has different answers for different people in various circumstances.
The common element is how the brain operates during stressors such as ‘transitions’ and change. As discussed, in non-neurotypical individuals, we find that their brain has difficulty switching from a heightened state (which limits input and logic) to one of a calm state (which can allow input and logic).
Here are this author’s two *top tips regarding transitions:
- Even in a state of stress, your brain is capable of activating calmness once the processing starts. The sooner you can accomplish this within yourself, and recognize in the moment you have done so, then part of the plan must be to create a calm environment for others. Now this may sound challenging, yes, however your child(ren) can sense this even if you do not speak a word. If you can eliminate the ‘haste’ within you, the child will sense the reduced urgency and this can reduce the effect of their reaction to the transition. As such, it makes the event a simple item such as putting on your shoes.
- Have your child(ren) use one of the three following task types as their redirection tools when in transition:
Listen to music or do something physical such as running around or jumping jacks or draw something to express themselves on paper or computer. Any three of the activities are brain-based tasks that elicit neuroreceptors (even in ASD children) that effects the ‘emotional override’ mechanisms in the brain to create a calmer demeanour. Set this up before an event as a redirection tool with available option. Eventually if prompted correctly, the child will use this on their own when able.
There are many books that have ‘transition’ information. They often speak of parental preparation and avoidance. Although these can be very helpful and move toward that “perfect” arrangement, life is not perfect and things come up all the time.
We encourage a holistic view on transitions, utilizing life skills development and redirection. Our hope is that all families are able to share in the knowledge of others, and we feel grateful to be able to share information from much of our experience.
*Excerpts from the AMD course and certificate, and parental courses for families with special needs children.