Transitioning from one activity to the next can be very difficult for people with autism. One very simple strategy is to use simple photographs of each activity on a key ring to show the person what the next activity will be. I used this technique often with my children when they were younger and still use it now if we have a very confusing day or a new experience for them.
To start, I took pictures of every activity that may happen during a day. From a picture of a toothbrush, to the shower, a math paper, swings, even the toilet. I mounted each picture on heavy cardstock and put Velcro on the back of each. I bought a large piece of foam board and put strips of Velcro on it. Each morning, before my children got up, I made the daily schedule. Our mornings were so much easier when they knew exactly what they needed to do to get ready for school. As each activity was completed, they could pull the tag from the board and move on to the next. Since many children with autism have sensory issues (grandin.com, 2012), the act of pulling the tags off the board can either be a reward or something they do not enjoy. Each child is different and you may have to pull the tags for the child you are working with.
Seeing the entire day schedule often helps the child with transitions because they know what comes next and that even if they are doing an activity they do not enjoy, one they do like is coming up on the schedule. This helps a child adjust to doing things they do not like to do. During a school day, a drawing of a clock beside each activity can help a child understand when it is time to move on to the next one. I did not use a clock because neither of my children understood time well enough. They can both tell what time it is, but it has no meaning to them.
If your child does not need a full day’s schedule, you can use your pictures another way. Instead of putting Velcro on the back of them, punch a hole in a corner and put all of the pictures on a metal key ring. When it is time to finish one activity, simply show the child the picture of the next one and let the child carry his key ring to the next place he needs to be. There will be times the child may throw the pictures because he does not want to do the next activity, but just flip the picture back, lay it beside the child and walk away. It may take several tries over many days, but once the child learns the next activity has to be completed before doing something more favorable, he will move on.
Patience is a parent/teacher’s best friend during the first few days of using picture schedules. Each child will react differently and what I used for my children may need to be adapted to be used for your child. Do not be afraid to think outside the box and try new things!