Sensory Processing Disorder – Part 2 – Transitions

Does your child have trouble at birthday parties, family events or community outings?  Do you have a struggle on snow days, teacher work days or appointments in the middle of the week?  How about assemblies at school, substitute teachers, babysitters, and adapting clothing to a change of season?  Do routine tasks such as brushing teeth or getting ready for bed cause frustration because your child doesn’t complete them independently, even though they are fully capable of doing so?   Many children thrive on routine and sameness.  I think it is a coping strategy to deal the the chaos that they feel in their brains and in their bodies.  Also, time is a very vague concept to them.  Telling them “later”, “in a little while” , “soon” , or even “tomorrow’ means nothing….it could mean right away or never ever.  The key to helping with transitions is to be concrete and visual.  Here are some techniques that have worked for me.

Visual Schedules

Its sounds fancy, but its not.  A visual schedule is simply a pictoral or written list of what is planned to happen.  Classrooms often use pictures attached to a chart with Velcro.  The students are allowed to arranged their schedule and then remove icons of tasks as they are completed.  In therapy sessions, I just jot my planned activities of the day on a piece of paper.  If the child is a non-reader, I draw simple pictures.  I always put a question mark on the schedule.  This is the “surprise” activity and it helps me with timing of my session.  If we zip through the listed activities and still have time, I can whip out something else for the “surprise”.  If we don’t have time, then it just gets marked off at the end.  The kids know that we don’t always do the surprise, so it is not an issue.  Initially, my schedules are very specific and over time become more general (a book, a game, iPad, something with markers, etc) and eventually I like to fade the use of the schedule altogether, resurrecting it on a day when we are having a hard time.

At home, your family calendar is a visual schedule.  I suggest using a giant blotter calendar to mark school days, home days, appointments, dinner out, visiting company, family events….everything.  Use stickers or drawings for the non-reader.  You can make a schedule for a day of errands or a busy Saturday with several activities.  You can have a schedule for chores to be completed at home.  Use photographs, drawings, printed icons or words.  Schedules can be mounted on a paint stick with Velcro, written on a dry erase board or attached to a cookie sheet or the refrigerator with  magnets (here’s a tip…cut freebie magnet advertisements in strips and glue to the back of the pictures.  No purchase necessary).  Inexpensive apps such as “Choiceworks” allow you to have a schedule on your tablet or phone.  Kids drag pictures from the schedule to a finished column and work towards a reward when all tasks are completed.  For pre-printed schedule charts and icons, visit,, or I especially like the work and ideas of Linda Hodgdon at   A quick search on Pinterest or Google will give you tons of ideas and templates.

VS2                       TrainScheduleReadyForDay                mzl.sspfmoqg.480x480-75



I use timers  all the time.

“You can play until the timer goes off, then we need to clean up”

“I know this is hard, work on it until the timer goes off, then we will put it away”

“When the timer goes off, its time to go home”

“We can do your game until the times goes off, then we will switch to my game”

“You need to eat all of the _____ before the timer goes off, then you can have a _______”

Typically, the timer on my phone is sufficient.  For a more visual child, you can use a visual timer clocksCountersTimers-cat-01 or a visual timer app on your phone or tablet.

Using a timer makes time make sense.  A child is willing to try hard or endure unpleasantness when they know that there is an end in sight.

Token System

Sometimes, a child needs a little more participation in marking time and accomplishments.  On these days, a simple token board does the trick.  rainbow_penny_board_-_example

My boards are laminated cardstock with Velcro dots.  Some have room for 3 tokens, others 6, 9 or 12.   Kids earn a piece (a fun foam shape or small flat block) periodically and attach it do the board.  When the board is full, the task is over.  It is not uncommon for children to ask for a board when they are working on something that is hard.  Having a finite set of pieces with a visible goal of completion helps them manage the task.  You can also mark time with puzzle pieces, pieces of train track, blocks or marbles in a jar.

Social Stories

For new situations (a visit to an amusement park, a party, a concert, a dental check-up) use of a social story can be beneficial.  Use photographs, books, Google images or You-tube videos to show your child what to expect.  Talk about what they will see and hear and smell.  Tell them what others will be doing and what the expectations will be of them.  If possible, attach a time.  I have used this technique with children flying for the first time (going through security), children going to weddings, families visiting Disney World, and in preparation for a field trip.  Give them a book or card with images of what you have discussed for them to keep in hand to help them remember.

In summary….

  • acknowledge that transition is hard
  • use visuals
  • be specific
  • let them know when the ending will happen
  • reward them for their flexibility when they are successful….that will make next time a little easier!

Teaching your child to manage the uncertain and handle change is a critical life skill.  Its never too soon to start.  It can be a slow, tedious process…one skill at a time….

But its totally worth it.

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