Smooth Transitions

“My daughter has outgrown her favorite childhood toy, and the stuffed puppy is simply worn to shreds,” commented a parent of a 4th grader diagnosed with autism. “I realize that she is dependent upon her puppy to help her stay grounded during the day and to reduce the trauma of transition, but her favorite stuffed animal is simply falling apart.” Several other parents and teachers have asked for some ideas about durable, inexpensive, age-appropriate substitutes for “baby toys” to use as transition objects.

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Holding a familiar object can help make transitions easier and help instill a sense of security that can diminish anxiety and emotional outbursts for some individuals. But, as our youngsters with autism get older, the old teddy bear they have held for years gets very ragged and looks a bit out of place in a junior high school classroom. When the teddy bear begins to fall apart, it is time to make a plan so the replacement of the transition object isn’t too sudden and traumatic.

The first consideration is to determine if a transition object is necessary. Some youngsters with autism are able to gradually break away from that obsessive interest in one object. But others are much more content and move through their day more smoothly when they know they can depend on that one reliable object.

One idea for a transition object that has worked very well for people across the spectrum of autism is photographs of family members, friends, pets, and other familiar people and places. You could even use a photograph of your daughter’s dearly beloved stuffed puppy. For individuals who tend to chew on and tear up objects, you can create a soft, rather indestructible, and replaceable object by printing a few 4×6 photos on a regular piece of paper, cutting them out, and gluing back to back on a bright piece of paper. Then laminate both sides with clear Contact paper or in a laminating machine. The clear Contact paper has a neat smooth texture.

Other individuals with autism really enjoy having a small photo album with a flexible cover that holds 3×5 photos. Use copies of photographs rather than the original so the photos can be replaced. Photographs are age-appropriate, inexpensive, and replaceable, making them good choices for transition objects as well as conversation starters.

Note to listeners and readers: 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. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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