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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Marnell, OTD, MBA

Transitions in Autism: Moving From Place to Place

Updated: May 28, 2021

Autistic individuals often struggle with transitions. Physical transitions may involve moving from one space to another space, stepping into one room and leaving another, entering and exiting a building. There may be several reasons for this:

1- Autistic individuals may struggle with the executive function skill of cognitive flexibility, which involves ideation (thinking of ideas) and planning transitions (developing a step-by-step sequence of how to get from A to B).

2- Another reason for difficulty with transitions could be "Topographical Agnosia", in other words, having a significant problem with directions. In this case, a child may be momentarily confused as to where they are going and how to get there.

3- And a third reason - the TOPIC of this blog post - is that many autistic children and teens have unique sensory processing that affects their ability to smoothly transition from one place to another.

In today's blog post I am sharing a strategy to help autistic children and teens cope with physically transitioning from one place to another.

So, let's think about this!

If a child is sensitive (overly-responsive) to auditory/ visual/ olfactory input, then there have likely been many many times when she has walked into room and has been overstimulated and overwhelmed. So, her knee-jerk reaction is to be tentative when transitioning into a new environment. Also, this behavior may be inconsistent: The child may inherently know that some settings are safe but others aren’t.

So, what to do?

Proactively teach a child to “check out” or “investigate” an environment. This gives her ownership and a sense of control. (This would be similar to dipping a toe into water in a pool to check out the temperature.) More specifically, make a small checklist of any sensory triggers that you know a child finds off-putting.

Is this room noisy?

Is there a radiator?

Is there music playing?

(Whatever are her specific triggers.)

Then model coping strategies.

“Oh, I see there is music playing. Let’s listen and see if it is music we like or don’t like.”

If, for example, it is music she doesn’t like, offer a strategy.

“This music is unpleasant. Let’s just spend five minutes and then leave.”

Or, “Let’s put on headphones.”

Or, “Let’s put in your earbuds and listen to your own music.”

Or, “Let’s ask them to turn off/down the music.”

As an autistic individual myself, I know that coping with and managing sensory sensitivities is vital. Help your child to understand and proudly and confidently own their sensory profile. Life is all about agency and seeking our own versions of happiness and fulfillment!

As always, feel welcome to touch base with me, Dr. Lisa Marnell, OT, by e-mail at I would love to hear about your successes, your struggles, and any questions or comments you have! Let me know if this post was helpful.

I also wanted to share that I am SO excited for 2021. I am developing a FREE Online Autism Masterclass entitled Helping Kids Master CALM. Sign up for this Masterclass at my website HERE:

Also, join my Autism Facebook group and keep up to date as I post more tips to help teachers, parents, and therapists help kids master skills! Join HERE:

Are you following Kids Master Skills on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, or Instagram?

Finally, for a variety of skill-building resources, check out my store on Teachers Pay Teachers at


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