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transitions We are all about the “getting ready” for our children with sensory processing needs. Our focus is often front-loaded. As therapists, while prepping for our sessions, we have ready what each child needs in order to be at an optimal place for learning. As parents, we have learned what works for our child to be at their best, depending on the upcoming task or demand.  However, are we adequately thinking about transitions? Maybe, we need to change the way we think about transitions.

Disengage from an Activity

Where I fall down, as both a parent and a therapist, is the disengagement from an activity. Furthermore, I think this is true for many of us.

Everyone is focused on transitions.  We know how difficult they can be for these kids. On further reflection, I don’t think it’s the space between that we need to be so concerned with. I do think that it is during the transitional activity that the behaviors are observed.  However, I believe the source of the issue is a child who has not truly unplugged from the prior activity.

“Higher Order” Tools for Transitions 

Standard available tools to prepare a child to disengage are important. Visual timers and auditory signals (chimes, or countdown notifications “X more minutes”) let the child know that closure and transition is imminent.  Explore The Fun Timer App

Yet I believe children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) need more than these “higher order” tools to prepare their systems to stop an activity/sensory set.

Situational Analysis of Transitions 


Have you had a very productive session with a child, only to watch them crash around the gym after the session has ended and you are trying to tidy up?


Have you had a child who is handling himself “well” at recess with permissible loud voices, touching, bumping and running?  But then, the child continually brings those same activities inside where they are not permitted?


Do you find that you’re sometimes caught off-guard because a high-demand activity has gone well?  Then a relatively routine activity such as loading up in the car has not?

Adjust the Transitions Experience

In each of these scenarios, it appears as though the child has not disengaged from one activity before being shuffled into another.  The transition experience takes the blame. Consider front-loading and back-loading the activity and the transition will take care of itself.

All of us therapists recommend and utilize transition tools, such as fidgets and heavy work.  When these tools are inserted in the transition phase, the child is simultaneously expected to perform other new actions.  These actions have very different sensory demands from the activity he has just completed.  This activity is one in which his central nervous system is still very much engaged in.

End of Activity Sensory Diet for Transitions 

Inserting another sensory diet phase during the later stages of an activity, and prior to its completion, can ready the nervous system for a shift-change. The body can begin disengagement from the activity.  This will make our transitional tools more effective.  The child can process the new demands expected of him during the transition.

This will require that we, as parents and providers, also disengage ourselves.  We will have to disengage from our own tasks and our conversations before the time is technically “up”.  This can be difficult, particularly if the child appears successful in the activity. However, when our child comes undone during the transitional phase – that success is bittersweet.

I’ll be trying this out over the next month, and I invite you to do so as well. I’d love to hear from you about how it’s going.