When they're moving too slowly when they need to change tasks...


Many students with executive dysfunction (EDF), Asperger's Disorder, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have difficulty making transitions. If the child is having difficulty due to an anxiety-related compulsive behavior, the following strategy may not work, but for many children, simply providing direct instruction on how to make a transition will speed transitions up tremendously.

Teach students how to make a transition just as you would teach other skills, using the "Say, Show, Check" approach to teaching skills. To prepare for the lesson, make up a sign (like the one below). You will also need a timing device (like a stopwatch), a pen, and a piece of paper to record progress. Set aside about 20 minutes to do this activity, although you may not need that much time.

Note: if your students are too young to use the word "transition," substitute another word or phrase, such as,"time to change," and use that phrase in the sign and your lesson.


How to Make Transitions

1. Move quickly.

2. Put away what you were doing and get what you need for the next activity.

3. Move your chair quietly

Point to the sign and tell the students that you are going to teach them how to make transitions.

Define transition time as "the time it takes to change what you are doing." Have the students repeat the definition to you. If they provide the correct definition, say "Right! Transition time is the time it takes to change what you are doing." If the students do not give the correct definition, calmly repeat it and then ask again.

State that it is important for transitions to be both quick and quiet. Ask the students to repeat to you the two things that transitions should be. If they provide the correct answer, say, "Right! Transitions should be quick and quiet." If they do not give the correct answer, calmly repeat that transitions should be quick and quiet and then ask them to tell you the two things transitions should be.

Tell the students that you are going to show them how to make quick and quiet transitions.

Go over each of the rules on your sign, reading it aloud, and then checking for comprehension on each one. Then have the students repeat the three rules.

Now it's "show time." Model different types of quick and quiet transitions and ask the students to comment on what you are demonstrating in terms of the three rules. Demonstrate changing from one activity to another while seated at your desk (e.g., put away one set of papers and take out another set). Ask the students to comment on how you moved quickly, put away what you were doing and got ready for the next activity, and didn't move your chair noisily.

Then demonstrate changing from one activity to another activity that involves you getting up from your desk. For each transition demonstration, begin the demonstration by signaling it: "It's transition time. I need to get ready for ________. I will put away my _____ and I will get out ___________." For example: "It's transition time. I need to get ready to do my math worksheet. I am putting away my science book and getting out my math book and my pencil." 

Have the student practice transitions while you monitor and provide positive feedback. Be sure to signal transitions by saying, "It is transition time. Get ready for _______. You will need ______."

To make it more fun for the students, you can keep track of the time and post it on a chart to show the students their progress in making quick and quiet transitions.

To help speed up transitions, you can add in a "Beat the Buzzer" incentive, using a kitchen timer and a variety of rewards for quick transitions.


The strategy in this handout is adapted from Rathvon, N: Effective School Interventions, Guilford Press, 1999.

If your students are having difficulty making transitions because they are "stuck" on activities due to perseveration, compulsiveness, or anxiety, you can try adding in a "fade to black" component. To incorporate "fade to black," you need to conduct separate lessons in "fade to black" where you tell the students that you are going to teach them a trick to help them clear their minds. Have them close their eyes and tell them to imagine themselves sitting in a movie theatre. Tell them to picture the lights in the theatre dimming and the tell them to keep focusing on the screen. Have the screen go to black."  By practicing "fade to black" it becomes available as a tool for them to use if they are having trouble clearing their minds to get ready for the next activity.

If you use "fade to black," you might incorporate it in the transition sequence by saying, "It's transition time. Everyone close your eyes and fade to black."  You then wait a minute, and say, "OK, now put away ___________ and take out ____________ to get ready for _______."

Once transition skills are mastered, you should see a noticeable increase in your amount of instructional time. You may need to occasionally conduct "booster" sessions on transition skills after lengthy vacations or when a new school year begins.

For students who always seem to take a long time to "settle in" once they enter the classroom, consider taping a short "To Do" list on their desks that you teach them to consult and check off each day. The short list might be something like:

  • Take out planner and pen
  • Record homework assignments in planner
  • Take out notebook

If it seems appropriate, you can add in a "beat the clock" component to the above with rewards for quick completion of the three items, but note that time pressures may be too stressful for some students who may then become agitated or more dysregulated.








Copyright 2001 - 2005, Leslie E. Packer, PhD, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. Some of the illustrations on this site are the copyrighted work of Dennis Cox, and may not be reproduced. Information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not constitute advice for any specific student or child.

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