Transitions can be tough for all of us. This can be particularly true for kids who are struggling with a mental health disorder like ASD, anxiety, or ADHD. Transitions are difficult because it involves a change in routine. Routines mean that the same things happen in generally the same way or at the same time. This leads to predictability and there is safety in predictability because we know what to expect. Many mental health disorders have an inability to accurately predict what is going to happen next. So, if we are in the same routine, there is nothing new to predict or predict incorrectly.
Imagine going to another country, perhaps one in the middle east. When we get there we see that the people are wearing different clothes and eating different foods and engaging in different customs. This may increase our anxiety because we don’t know these “rules” and yet everyone around us seems to. We may worry that we will offend someone, or break a law and get in trouble, or miss a meal because we don’t know how to order.
This is how kids with certain mental health challenges may feel in new situations, even in their own house, their own school, or with their friends. Sometimes the smallest change can create a lot of anxiety. So what can we do? Some parents try to not let anything change. I understand this comes from not wanting to upset your child so they can be happy and feel secure. However, the world will not change for your child. So, we want to help your child be more OK with the world around him/her. A way we can do this related to transitions, is to set them up for success. For example, a change is coming, instead of allowing our child to avoid the change, help them lean into it and be successful. Give advance notice so they know it’s coming. Let them know exactly what will be expected of them or what will happen during the event or the change. Explain how it will sound, how it will feel, how it will smell, how it will taste; try to use all of your senses to make the event come alive for your child before actually getting there. Remind your child that they have had successful transitions before and that you believe in them.
After a child has had a change or transition, give them time to self-soothe. This may often include a familiar routine such as a favorite book, or watching a specific video or TV show or doing something “their way”. This is OK! It’s giving them a sense of control as a reward for going through an experience where they weren’t in control. Think of how nice it is to return home after vacation and get in your bed, eat off your dishes, and go back to your routines.