Information on this page about the interventions is based on the book, Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support, Second Edition by G. Dunlap, R. Iovannone, D. Kincaid, K. Wilson, K. Christiansen, and P. S. Strain. 

What is the strategy? Why does it work?

Transition supports assist the student to change activities, settings or routines. Supports can be verbal, visual, and/or auditory. The transition cue can support the student switching to a different activity within the same physical setting, switching the activity by moving to a new location or preparing the student for new people. The transition support can also include a cue or checklist for the expected transition behaviors the student will perform and the reinforcement that the student will earn when transitioning.

Transitions are a considerable part of a school day. Transition supports provide predictability of a day’s sequence of activities and create positive routines before, during, and after transitions. Presenting a cue prior to a transition allows the student to predict the sequence of events and be prepared for the new event.  They can modify the feature of the transition that triggers challenging behaviors so that the challenging behavior is no longer relevant. For example, if a student has difficulty transitioning to a new activity before the previous activity is finished, the transition support can either provide the student with enough warning to finish the task prior to the transition or can provide the student reassurance that she will have time later to complete the task.

Functions and antecedents the transition supports intervention works for

If challenging behavior occurs…

  • Immediately prior to or during transitions
  • When the student does not understand what is expected during a transition
  • When the student has difficulty ending a preferred activity
  • When the student has difficulty physically moving from one activity to another
  • As a way to delay, stop, or avoid a transition

Steps for Implementation

  1. Determine transition(s) in which student demonstrates challenging behavior. Evaluate whether the challenging behavior occurs just prior to/during transitions, when student is beginning to start next activity, or throughout entire transition sequence.
    • Hypothesize the specific reason that transitions are events setting the stage for challenging behavior.
  2. Identify and define specific behaviors expected of all students during transition times.
    • Ex: Put away materials, get supplies for next activity, line up, physically move from one place to another, etc.
    • Defining and including these specific behaviors in transition cues provides opportunities to teach and reinforce expected behaviors.
  3. Determine transition support that will best modify reasons that transitions trigger challenging behaviors, and develop consistent routine for implementation.
    • This could include: a 2-minute warning, as well as visual, auditory, and motoric cues. Build in a cue that allows student to anticipate and prepare for transitions.
  4. Prior to difficult transitions, teach transition sequence, expectations, and skills necessary to complete transition successfully.
    • This can be accomplished through direct instruction, modeling, role-playing, etc.
  5. As transition support becomes part of daily routine, some practice and cueing may be faded.

How to implement this strategy in multiple ways (examples & resources)

  • Auditory:
    • Play a song
    • Chant a phrase
    • Provide another type of audible cue (e.g., bell or chimes)
    • Verbal cues
  • Visual:
    • Picture cues to show order of steps
    • Visual timer to show time left in an activity or time until next activity
      • Helps the student “see” how much time is left before an upcoming transition. Set the time for the determined length of time so the student can watch the time elapse
    • Visual schedule
      • First/Then table for student to see the sequence of activities and what will occur next
      • Some students may prefer a visual schedule that shows the whole day’s actvities.
    • Photos or pictures of expectations and steps in a transition
    • Social stories to teach desired behaviors
    • Visual checklist (i.e., provide student with a checklist of each expected transition behavior. As student checks off each behavior, they receive reinforcement.)
    • Defined space to line up
  • Motor:
    • Add dance
    • Add physical movement (e.g., clap hands)
  • Video: Prior to transitioning, use a video to provide a model of transition behaviors.
    • Can be shown using smartphones or tablets, as well as computers or virtual technology
    • Can use a recording of the student or a peer performing desired transition behaviors
  • Tips for implementation:
    • Give clear directions for transition – put away your math books, line up at the door, walk with your partners
    • Be very clear about what is happening next – “We are going to music.”
    • Make sure children know what to do during transition and what is expected at the next activity – “Walk with your partner.”
    • Provide reinforcement to children who are doing a good job during transitions. 

First-then and visual image examples for young children

Planning Transitions to Prevent Challenging Behavior – This 9 page resource provides insight into how to better support students through transitions. On page 4, a helpful table of daily transition tips is provided. On page 6, examples of individualized strategies are given.

My Students Have Trouble with Transitions – What Can I Do?– This packet from NorthWest PBIS network outlines how to improve classroom procedures and transitions in multiple settings. Examples and further resources included.

Tips for Teachers on classroom transitions

Transitioning between activities – This website provides ideas on how to provide transition supports at the universal and more individualized level.

Supporting Classroom Transitions Between Daily Routines: Strategies and Tips – This article outlines specific supports to help students with transitions and provides many examples.

Helping Children Make Transitions Between Activities – This brief includes practical strategies and vignettes of how they can be implemented.

When-then sentences: An evidence-based behavior strategy – This article includes an explanation of the strategy and printable resources.

Sample Visual Schedules for Kids with Sensory Needs or Impulsive/Hyperactive Behaviors

Visual Schedule Series – Mini Schedules for Activities

Video Resources

  • Individual Schedules webinar (40:33) – This webinar, part of the Strategic Behavior Intervention Series, discusses the core components of successful visual schedules, student factors to consider, types of visual schedules for different age levels, steps to implementation, how to overcome potential pitfalls, and related resources.

Apps for Transition Supports (List based on Hume et al. 2014)

  • Pictello 
    • Priming (social stories), visual schedules 
    • Upload own pictures, choose from many voice options, record own voice
  • iPrompts 
    • Visual schedules, priming (social stories), choice prompts (e.g., “Would you like a banana or apple?”), first/then boards, countdown timers 
    • Upload own pictures, choose pictures from a library of stock photographs, download pictures from the Internet, see passage of time with countdown timer; 
  • First Then Visual Schedule HD 
    • First/then boards, visual schedules, priming (social stories), task analyses, choice boards, timers 
    • Upload own pictures, choose pictures from a library of preselected pictures, search Internet for pictures, use audiovisual prompting, check steps off as completed or drag and drop them to another column or to an envelope, set interval timer for each task within a visual schedule
  • Video Scheduler 
    • Visual schedules, priming (videos) 
    • Create picture or video schedules, share schedules with others, use pass code function to prevent users from skipping to preferred activities within a schedule
  • Time Timer 
    • See the passage of time, alarm or vibrate options
  • Vis Timer 
    • Timer, advance auditory warning 
    • See the passage of time, choose color of time dial, receive 1-min warning before time is up, use variety of sound options
  • VoCal 
    • Auditory cue 
    • Be reminded of an event in one’s own voice (e.g., “Time to go to the library”)

Supporting Research

Cihak, D., Fahrenkrog, C., Ayres, K. M., & Smith, C. (2010). The use of video modeling via a video ipod and a system of least prompts to improve transitional behaviors for students with autism spectrum disorders in the general education classroom. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 12(2), 103–115.

Cote, C. A., Thompson, R. H., & McKerchar, P. M. (2005). The effects of antecedent interventions and extinction on toddlers’ compliance during transitions. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 38(2), 235–238.

Dettmer, S., Simpson, R. L., Myles, B. S., & Ganz, J. B. (2000). The use of visual supports to facilitate transitions of students with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 15(3), 163–169.

Hall, C., Hollingshead, A., & Christman, J. (2019). Implementing video modeling to improve transitions within activities in inclusive classrooms. Intervention in School and Clinic, 54(4), 235–240.

Hume, K., Sreckovic, M., Snyder, K., & Carnahan, C. R. (2014). Smooth transitions: Helping students with autism spectrum disorder navigate the school day. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 47(1), 35–45.

Iadarola, S., Shih, W., Dean, M., Blanch, E., Harwood, R., Hetherington, S., Mandell, D., Kasari, C., & Smith, T. (2018). Implementing a manualized, classroom transition intervention for students with asd in underresourced schools. Behavior Modification, 42(1), 126–147.

Schreibman, L., Whalen, C., & Stahmer, A. C. (2000). The use of video priming to reduce disruptive transition behavior in children with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(1), 3–11.