Many children with autism have a hard time adapting to unexpected changes, whether those are small transitions between daily activities, or life-changing events like moving into a new community.  Their resistance to change can lead to disruptive behaviors. Military service is rife with various types of transitions for service members and, by extension, their families. Your child with autism can successfully cope with transitions if you give them ample time to anticipate, understand, and practice dealing with the changes.

Defining Transitions

The term transition can refer to different types of changes including…

  •  Minor transitions and changes, such as:
    • Between daily routines and school activities.
    • Haircuts and doctor visits.
    • Taking a different route to school.
  • More significant life-changing events, such as:
    • Starting a new school year.
    • Moving to a new school.
    • Moving to a new community or home.
    • Graduating high school and entering adulthood.

For children with autism, the “size” or significance of the transition is generally not correlated with the intensity of the challenging behavior they exhibit. Minor changes in daily routine can lead to highly disruptive meltdowns. For example, moving all of the furniture in the living room might result in calm acceptance whereas moving a particular pillow on the couch may result in a tantrum.

Tips for Successfully Managing Change

Here are some things you can do to help your child better handle both expected and unexpected change:

  • Establish and maintain a daily routine using visual supports (e.g., timers, photos, videos, and mobile apps for portable, picture-based schedules) and organizers (e.g., calendars, checklists, daily schedules).
  • For consistently difficult transitions, consider verbally or pictorially walking your child through the upcoming transition including what reward he or she will earn. (e.g., in 2 minutes we are turning off “Thomas the Tank Engine” but if you do so nicely, you will get “X”).
  • Rehearse new settings or changes to routine.
  • Identify and prepare for possible changes in advance.
  • Have a contingency plan for meltdowns. Be sure this is one that can be implemented consistently by all involved.
  • Engage peers and teachers as supports and sources of reinforcement for successful transitions.


There are several websites that offer families free online training on transition strategies for home and in the community:

What Type of Transition Do You Want to Prepare For?

There are strategies and techniques that you can use to help manage transitions on any scale. Learn how to deal with some of the more common transition challenges for you and your family.

Relocation Travel Extended Separation  Adulthood  Leaving the Service

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