Activity-Shifting- Part II: Helping Kids on the Autism Spectrum to Move Successfully from One Task to Another

Transition strategies are used to support children with HFA during changes in tasks, settings, and routines. These techniques are used before, during, and after the activity-shift occurs. The strategies increase predictability for the child, thus reducing meltdowns and tantrums.

Here are some examples:

Finished Box—

This visual activity-shifting strategy can be used before and during a transition. This is a designated location where children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) place items that they are finished with when it is time to shift to a new activity. When it is time to transition, it is often helpful for these young people to have an assigned location to put materials prior to moving on to the next task. The box may be located in the child’s work area or in any center of the classroom or room in the home, and can be labeled with the word or a visual cue to indicate its purpose.

Often, children with HFA may prefer to complete a task before moving on, and this may not be possible due to time constraints. In these cases, establishing a location where the child knows he or she can find the materials to finish up at a later time or date may be helpful.

Objects, Photos, and Icons—

Using a visual cue during activity-shifting can decrease challenging behavior and increase following “transition demands.” For example, photo cues can be used during transitions from one classroom activity to another, from one room within the school to another, etc.

“First/Then” Sequence—

A First/Then sequence of information may be useful, because the children can see what activity they are completing currently and what activity will occur next. This may help a child transition to a location that is not preferred if he or she is able to see that a preferred activity is coming next. The “First/Then” sequence should be portable and move with the child as he or she shifts to the next task.

Activity-Shifting Cards— 

Some children with HFA may find that longer sequences of visual information are more effective in alleviating activity-shifting difficulties. These children often benefit from the use of a visual schedule that is located in a central area in the home or classroom. In this technique, they have to travel to the schedule to get the object, photo, or icon that describes the next activity or location.

Using the visual cue regularly helps these young people predict the shifting routine. The visual cue will likely be more meaningful to the child than repeated verbal cues. Examples of activity-shifting cues can include visuals that read “Check Schedule” and match to a corresponding pocket above daily schedules, and a picture of Snoopy that serves as a transition cue.

Visual Countdown— 

Another visual strategy to use prior to activity-shifting is a countdown system. Like the visual timer, a visual countdown allows a child to “see” how much time is remaining in an activity. There is no specific time increment used. This tool is beneficial if the timing of the activity-shifting needs to be flexible.

It’s often helpful for children with HFA to “see” how much time remains on a task before they will be expected to shift to a new location or event. Concepts related to time are fairly abstract to kids on the spectrum (e.g., “You have a few minutes”), often can’t be interpreted literally (e.g., “We need to go in a minute”), and may be confusing for these “special needs” kids, especially if time-telling is not a mastered skill.

Visual Schedules— 

The consistent use of visual schedules with children with HFA can assist in successful activity-shifting. Visual schedules can allow them to view an upcoming activity, have a better understanding of the sequence of tasks that will occur, and increase overall predictability. Visual schedules used in classrooms and home settings can assist in decreasing transition time and challenging behaviors during the shift – and increase child-independence during the transition.

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