Transition is Tough

In spite of strategic plans by families and schools to creatively counter transition problems from summer to school, many students with autism struggle with the issue. Reactions to the change in routine range from withdrawal and lethargy to explosive outbursts, poor sleeping habits, or refusal to follow directions.

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Interestingly, many children and teens actually seem to prefer the more formal, predictable schedule of the school year to lazy summer days at home. But transition, a characteristic inherent in autism, is the issue. Because of difficulties with transition, many youngsters with autism respond negatively when making the change from one lifestyle to the other.

The whole process can be less stressful if family members, teachers, and others simply accept the fact that transition and change are difficult for many individuals with autism. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore inappropriate and troublesome behavior, but it does mean that we can adopt an attitude of helping our friend on their journey rather than getting frustrated with their tantrums and stubbornness.

Parents can also smooth some of the bumps and potholes at the beginning of a school year by gradually introducing structure to the evening routine and to the morning routine several weeks before school starts. We can begin waking our youngster up closer and closer to the time they will need to rise once school starts.

Some individuals with autism do not deal with anticipation of a new event very well. In that case, it may be best to avoid the fanfare, and just head for school that first day. Other youngsters thrive on the countdown to school. These students may enjoy a calendar to mark off each day in a countdown to school, and to write down “back-to-school events” such as shopping for school supplies and Meet the Teacher night.

TIP FOR THE DAY. Even as we implement these pro-active plans to help our youngsters make a smooth transition from summer to school, we need to recognize and accept that fact that resistance to change is a natural result of autism. In spite of our best-laid plans, our youngster will probably have some touch-and-go moments during the transition from summer days to school days.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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