Jan 292012

Is there a child out there with sensory processing disorder who smoothly rides transition periods? I’d like to meet him, if so. Difficulty transitioning is so common in children with sensory issues.

A transition is the in-between period between two activities. A day in kindergarten is full of transitions and a good teacher knows how to smooth out these periods and make them as short as possible so that the children don’t start acting up and getting wild. For example, between playtime and circle time, circle time and lunchtime, lunchtime and playing outside time, there are a few minutes of open time when the teacher is supposed to be organizing the next activity and getting the children ready to start it.

The trick to quick and smooth transitions is to be advanced prepared for the next activity and at the same time, to give the children a job to complete and the sense of responsibility to do it. If it’s show-and-tell time in kindergarten and the children have just finished eating lunch, the teacher would make sure that the show-and-tell area is ready and prepared, and the children’s job would be to get up from the lunch table, push their chair in, get the book/toy that they brought from home from their backpack, and sit down in the show-and-tell area. If the children don’t know what to do and the teacher hasn’t advance prepared, the kids sense the disorganization and decide it’s free-for-all time.

At home there are transitions too. Here our transitions take place between coming home from school and eating dinner, dinner and cleanup, cleanup and homework, homework and playtime, playtime and bathtime, bathtime and bedtime. That’s 6 transitions in roughly 3 hours. Did I ever tell you that my son MeMe can not handle transitions? I can’t remember the last time we had a peaceful afternoon. There are also morning transitions but somehow that goes easier.

For most of the 6 transitions, MeMe is okay. He still gets wild and likes to tease his siblings (in his defense, he doesn’t realize he’s teasing and we have to stop him by explaining how his victim feels). We have to constantly redirect him and remind him what he’s supposed to be doing (eating dinner, taking his dishes to the kitchen, finding a toy/game/book to keep busy, going in the shower).

The easiest one to solve was between showering and going to sleep. We counted the number of things that he had to get done in that transition time and since he likes numbers and lists, he liked checking them off mentally and completing the tasks. He felt responsible. For example, let’s say he has to get into pajamas, brush his teeth, and climb into bed- that’s 3 jobs he has and he knows he has to be responsible to complete 3 jobs, not just one or two. He’s been really good at this transition period and doesn’t even need any reminders to brush his teeth every night.

His hardest transition is between coming home from school and sitting down for dinner. I like to serve dinner right away because I know my kids are pretty hungry. A child with sensory processing disorder being hungry or needing to use the bathroom can cause some real chaos around him so my goal number one is to feed the hungry. It isn’t only about MeMe though, if I don’t give them dinner right away, they will go straight to the fridge and find their own.

Unfortunately we have a pretty tiny entry hallway as you step in to our house. The hallway immediately sets off MeMe, he can’t handle feeling crowded, especially when he’s hungry or he hasn’t used the bathroom all day (don’t ask). The result is that as soon as he comes home, he’s already halfway into a meltdown. I don’t even get a chance to say hello before someone’s got kicked or punched and almost everyone’s crying or fighting.

This was about a year ago and I knew I had to get smarter. I decided MeMe should come home alone so he can get through the hallway without his siblings there making it extra crowded for him. We did that for a while until he got used to coming through the hallway and into the rest of the house. The goal was to get him to use the bathroom, wash up, and sit down for dinner.

Next I tried putting food on his plate so that once he came in, he could sit right down and eat, cutting out most of the transition. I wasn’t thrilled that his hands weren’t washed and it didn’t help much because he really needed the bathroom. It did help a bit though.

Our next obstacle was that we have only one bathroom and everyone of course needs it at the same time. Would it be fair to allow MeMe to always be first to use the bathroom? I don’t think my other kids would appreciate that much, they also need the bathroom urgently. I knew we’d have to teach MeMe some patience.

I racked my brain to try and come up with an activity MeMe can do while waiting for the bathroom. I know he loves to fill in worksheets that he finds easy. I had another problem then, that everyone wanted to tell me about their day at once and often MeMe would shout over everyone else so that he’d be heard, and the others weren’t too happy. I came up with an idea that would solve these issues and also fit into the criteria of solving transition times: 1) the adult has to be advanced prepared 2) the child has to complete a task and feel responsible to.

I started writing up a list of questions, basic ones about his day. For example: “What did you eat for lunch?” “Who did you sit next to by lunch?” “Who did you play with at recess?” “What did you play?” “Which  therapists came today?” “Did anyone bother you in school?” “Do you have homework?” etc etc.

As soon as he came through the door he knew he had a mission- to answer those questions. I left a pencil for him on the worksheet so he wouldn’t have to go find one. And while everyone else was using the bathroom or telling me about their day, he was also telling me about his day, quietly. Then he’d use the bathroom and it was already available for him.  At the same time I’d put dinner on the table and he’d come back from the bathroom and sit right down to eat.

We continued this way for a few weeks until one day I decided to test him and see what happens if I don’t give him the questionnaire about his day. Surprisingly, he was fine with it. He’d gotten used to coming inside without melting down, and waiting for the bathroom. He did love answering the questions though so I made one up for him on the spot. After a while I phased it out. He was still having some trouble with the transition but it wasn’t destroying our afternoon.

Nowadays, we still have some chaos but not nearly as much as we used to. If I had a late start in getting dinner ready, I make sure to put out an activity to keep him busy and interested everyone gets themselves ready for dinner. I bought him a coloring book and put it out often with crayons. Sometimes I’ll set out playdough for him- he loves that so much that he’ll usually be the last one to sit down for dinner. Or I’ll turn on a quick 10 minute video that holds his interest for just long enough for me to put dinner on the table and for everyone else to sit down.

Meme’s really come a long way with transitions though. These simple activities would have never done the trick just a year ago. We’ve come to the point where when MeMe starts getting tense about  waiting for the bathroom or needing to tell me something or feeling crowded, we can remind him that patience is the key to staying calm, and if he starts to tantrum or if he hurts someone, he will have to calm down in his room. MeMe can actually control himself with this kind of reminder now. Less than a year ago, he’s just go right on with his meltdown. So there’s the progress!


What are transition times like for your family? Have they been solved or are they ongoing? What have you done to try and avoid transition periods?

Please share with us! I’m sure we’d all enjoy and benefit from hearing other’s experiences.





  2 Responses to “Good Old Transitions and Sensory Issues”

  1. Wow. You rock. I find with so many of my kids issues, me being proactive avoids so many meltdowns. If i get up before my kids and make breakfast and then wake them to eat, our day runs more smoothly. (I am so not a morning person so this is a challenge for me.)

    We have gotten better with transitions, but if my son spends even one night away from home he need at least one day to recover. He just came home from two days on youth retreat at church, and he will need two days of staying home to recover. Fortioanatly we homeschool, but it is a bit stressful on me not being able to do anything for next two days. But if I didn’t give him this he would shut down. He will do school work but leaving the house will be too much.

    He also would really prefer if his brother wasn’t home those two days, but that is not possible. So I have to also work on keeping him calm.

    My boys are 14 & 8.

    The 14 year old has spd, adhd, odd, a perception problem with his right eye, and some ot issues.

    The 8 year old has odd, and adhd.

    Our days are interesting.

    So glad to ahve found your blog. I don’t know anyone with a child with sensory issues, so although I am sorry yours does, it is helpful for me to not feel so alone.

    • Thanks, Becky R, for your really great comment! Glad to see you back.

      There are so many children with sensory processing disorder, you should never feel alone!

      You’re doing the greatest thing by homeschooling your boys. They will appreciate it so much when they are older. In the meantime- keep on going strong!

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