School Day Transitions (“Micro Transitions”)

All pupils are involved in a range of transitions across the typical school day. Such transitions can be considered micro transitions and include:

  • Moving from one task to another
  • From class-time to break-time and vice versa
  • From one area to another
  • From inside to outside 
  • From home to school/school to home
  • Between staff.

It is not always the major transitions that have the most impact on autistic learners and these micro transitions need to be considered and planned for wherever possible. When supporting transitions (large and small), it is important to anticipate and plan ahead for the support required for individuals coping with change or with new experiences.   Preparing autistic learners for a micro transition can vary widely, such as a trusted adult taking five minutes to explain why there has been change to the day, going to the assembly hall early to rehearse where you will sit before the hall is too busy, or creating a social story for an upcoming school trip or event. The most important factor is to consider the situation from the perspective of the learner, taking account of their strengths, difficulties and past experiences.

As the concept of time is often difficult for autistic learners, they can benefit from explicit visual cues or prompts to help them gauge the progress of the day and as they get older to manage their time. Examples of this can range from the practitioners giving a verbal reminder or countdown, incorporating a timer into a task or using a clock.

Practitioners should regularly assess how transitions through the day impact the autistic learner. Balancing the development of predictable and consistent transitions, whilst encouraging the learner not to become too rigid in routines, is important. Depending on the activity, environment and the specific needs and strengths of the individual, planning for transitions may be as important as curriculum planning.

Visuals such as photographs can help prepare the learner for new places or unfamiliar experiences, for example an outing or a new classroom.   It can be helpful the prepare the child or young person for new situations at a calm time, when they are likely to be more receptive to new information.    


Visual schedules or timetables can help with making routines more predictable, thus easing anxiety around change.  It can be helpful to note unavoidable changes to routines on a visual timetable.  

Timers can give an an indication of the time available for an activity and can help a child or young person prepare for a transition.  Different types of timer can be used depending upon stage of development and individual an individual learner’s preference, for example sand timers or countdown timers on an i-pad. 


Social Stories can be a helpful approach to supporting an individual to plan for upcoming events, helping them to anticipate what could happen and what strategy they could use to cope, for example:  


  • If you know that they will have to wait an unspecified amount of time for a turn, plan what could they do while they are waiting (a visual support could help to remind the child in the moment)   
  • If you are going to the theatre, plan for the child to sit on an end of aisle seat and have an agreed plan for where they could go if they feel they need to leave during the performance.  


Where possible, it is a good idea to write a Social Story collaboratively with a child or young person.  It is important to note that Social Stories are most likely to be helpful for individuals at the conversational stage of communication development and some at the Language Partner stage of development.  Further information about Social Stories can be found here: Home – Carol Gray – Social Stories (  


Try to change only one thing at a time. If there is to be an unfamiliar adult taking the class, try to ensure that the lesson content and room are familiar. If the lesson is to be in an unfamiliar place, try to ensure that the people and resources are familiar.   

Providing predictability is key to reducing anxiety around changes to routine. Predictability can be provided by considering the following questions from the child or young person’s perspective: 

  • What is the plan?​ 
  • What am I expected to do?​ 
  • How much am I expected to do?​ 
  • How will I know when I am finished?​ 
  • What will I do next?​ 
  • What should I do if I don’t know what to do?​ 
  • What should I do if I become overwhelmed, anxious or upset?