A transition is best defined as a time of change, where the changes impact an individual’s routine and their day to day functions.
For an individual that has developmental disabilities, a transition may be more challenging for them to adjust to, as their disability likely heightens their resistance to change. Transitions can mean any sort of change in their daily routine, whether that is when they are going from school to home or simply from play time to bedtime. Transitions actually happen multiple times a day for children with or without developmental disabilities, but the concept of change is harder to grasp for those with those challenges. Change is inevitable and it happens often, but that does not mean that it is easy for all parties involved.
Transitions will impact children differently and their reactions to changes will prompt different behavioral responses based on the child’s disability and their coping mechanisms. As aforementioned, transitions happen every day inside and outside the home. However, when a child with developmental disabilities or intellectual disabilities is old enough to attend school, transitions become more common and their responses to changes can intensify. A school environment for some children can soothe their responses to transitions, especially if they are in a special education class that eases them into the changes when they move from one activity to another. However, if the child is not in a special education class and they are not being guided through the transition, they can react with sudden outbursts of inappropriate behavior, physical aggression or emotional distress.
When a child with developmental disabilities starts to feel anxious or angry around the time of their transitions, he or she may start to act out and redirect their feelings into unhealthy behaviors. The Center on Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning defines this type of behavior as “challenging behavior” because the child with the disability is often difficult to handle during this time, and it can be very challenging to calm them down. Such behaviors include:
As previously mentioned, the responses to transitions may vary from child to child, as each person will have a different physical, emotional or verbal reaction to the changes that they are experiencing. The important thing to know is how your child reacts to certain situations that they may find themselves in. Although you will not be there during the school day to help them with their behavior, you can predict behavior and try to mitigate any issues by teaching them about transitions and giving them appropriate coping mechanisms during this time.
As a parent, you likely are always looking for ways to protect your child and to ensure that they have the tools and skills necessary to succeed. As you know, when you have a child with developmental disabilities, those tools and skills may look different than those for children without disabilities. One of the easiest ways to help your child with transitions in school is to discuss what transitions are, what they can expect during this time of change and even practice transitioning between activities! There are several ways to assist your child with their transitions such as:
As you work with your child to become more familiarized with transitions, we encourage you to utilize the tips we have listed above. Your child will be challenged daily in their school environments and during their time in school. Although it can be tough to work with them on perfecting their responses to transitions, with the right approach it can be done!
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