By Tina Hedges
Founder and Operator, Transitions in Autism

What do we mean when we talk about transitions?  It can be just another word for change or “the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another”.

People with autism can experience difficulties coping with change. They can, however, be supported to understand and manage changes. People with autism can experience extreme levels of anxiety if preparation for change is not carried out and what may seem like a minor detail can be a major feature for them. For someone with autism having chicken nuggets and chips on the same plate can cause the same levels of anxiety as walking into a new school if the expectation was the foods would be on separate plates. Anxiety regarding change may be due to a lack of understanding of the new expectations.

When transitions and autism are talked about people often think of the major life transitions such as starting or leaving school. Whilst attending the Transitions Roadshow recently in Perth I was encouraged by the focus on detailed planning around transitions from school to further education or work. The Principles of Good Transitions 2 document emphasises “the transition to young adulthood since the challenges associated with it are widely recognised as being often poorly supported”. This level of detailed planning is absolutely vital to ensure a smooth transition but could this level of detailed planning and focus also go into the “smaller” transitions that can still cause the same levels of anxiety for people on the spectrum?

Parents quite often say transitions, such as moving house, can be easier to manage as opposed to the transition from one member of staff to another. Could this be due to the level of detailed planning that goes into what we would classify as a major transition as opposed to a minor one?  The needs of the person with autism do not alter due to the size of the transition. They still require to be prepared by providing them with relevant information, allowing them time to process this and time to respond.

The rigidity of thought processes, sensory processing issues and communication difficulties experienced by people with autism means transitions require careful and systematic planning.  Transitions in Autism recognizes that any change to routine can also be transitions that result in high levels of anxiety, confusion and stress.  If the planning and preparation are put in place it leads to the person with autism experiencing a sense of control over events as opposed to an unexpected situation just happening to them.

More details of my work can be found on my website, Transitions in Autism.