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Transitions and Change

For people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) core features of the disorder add complexity to transition. In education environments, the word transition usually means movement from one setting to another (such as the move from kindergarten to school, or primary to secondary school).


However, many small transitions occur throughout the school day. A student with ASD may perceive these “small” changes or transitions as very significant. Students with ASD may display behaviour of concern or increased anxiety as a response to the many small transitions in their day.


Examples of “small” changes a teacher might make are:

  • seating the student at a different desk,
  • telling students part-way through a task to disregard a particular question or aspect of the task,
  • changing classroom routines, especially when this occurs without prior warning,
  • asking the student to use a pen instead of a pencil,
  • changing the way that work is handed in when finished,
  • asking the student to work with a different partner.

Even expected daily transitions may represent a challenge. Students with ASD may have difficulty with managing the transition involved in:

  • arriving at school,
  • leaving their desk to sit on the floor,
  • moving between classrooms/teachers, 
  • moving from whole-class instruction to an independent task,
  • finishing school work to pack up their belongings.

Transitions in a school setting are mainly signalled verbally or through social cues (such as joining other students sitting on the floor). Students with ASD have difficulty with understanding social and verbal indicators of change. This can result in confusion about whether change is happening and why it is occurring.


Anxiety and confusion created by change can impact on the student's ability to focus on their learning. This can affect learning outcomes and may also lead to behaviours of concern.


Strategies to Support Students

  • Provide as much warning as possible when change occurs.
  • When communicating about change, support verbal communication with the use of visual aids such as pictures, timetables and timers.
  • Teach the student to manage transition by introducing changes which are desirable (for example, discuss with the student that there is a change approaching and they will be required to stop doing an onerous task and spend five minutes with the iPad). This assists the student to understand that change, while confronting, is sometimes pleasant.
  • Teach the student to manage change during activities where the student’s full focus is not required for learning and there are few social demands on the student.
  • Consider whether change is really necessary (does it matter if the student is writing with a green pencil?).
  • Provide the student with additional time to manage transitions.
  • Provide the student with behaviour supports for managing the transition.

For more suggestions about supporting students with transitions click here.