Micro-Transitions and Support Strategies

Micro Transitions and Support Strategies for Students with Special Educational Needs

For pupils with special educational needs (SEN), the numerous small or micro-transitions that happen throughout the school day can be particularly challenging to navigate. These micro-transitions involve changes in activity, environment, physical state, emotion, companionship and more. The lack of control or predictability around these changes can lead to anxiety, distress, and behavioural issues in some students.

I have written a more in-depth guide to support pupil’s with all levels of transitions if you want to know how these fit in. The Autism Education Trust also have a good guide to transitions here. If I had to give 1 strategy to try I recommend looking at social stories or Hero Cards.

Micro-transitions quote

Questions to Consider Linked to Micro-Transitions

As SEN teachers and support staff we can determine the success of a pupil’s day. We need to understand the potential impact of these micro-transitions, and implement strategies to support students through them. Three questions to consider are:

1. How much of the content or flow of the student’s day can they actually determine or control? For many students with SEN, the answer is often ‘not much’. Lack of perceived control or autonomy over micro-transitions linked to the timetable can contribute to “challenging behaviour” and stress.

2. Which aspects of the student’s routine do we need to build more predictability or consistency around, to help support them? For example, ensuring the student is aware of the daily schedule and any changes well in advance, providing visual schedules and prompts, keeping classroom layout/set-up consistent, etc.

3. How can we encourage independence and self-management of transitions over reliance on adult support? For example, teaching transition routines/schedules, providing checklists or visual prompts, building in preferred activities, rewards, etc.

Micro-transitions ai art pupils walking to class

Examples of Micro-Transitions

Some examples of micro transitions that students may struggle with, and suggested support strategies we can use in class, include:

Power or control

Transitioning from self-directed to adult-led activities: Provide advance warning of changes/schedule; offer choices when possible; build in rewards/reinforcers.


Transitioning from an engaging activity to down time: Provide clear end times for activities; schedule in preferred activities or breaks; offer transitional objects to keep hands busy.


Transitioning from group activities to solitary work: Pair work and solo work in shorter segments; provide check-ins from staff; allow peer interactions/collaborations when suitable.


Transitioning from inside to outside (or reverse): Prepare for the transition in advance; use visual schedules and prompts; provide additional layers or sun protection/warmth as needed.


Transitioning from well to ill, hungry to full, alert to tired, etc.: Closely monitor the student for signs their state is changing; provide snacks, breaks, or nurse visits as needed; allow for flexibility in activities/demands in response to the student’s state.


Transitioning from a state of feeling safe/content to scared/anxious: Watch for triggers that may produce a change in emotional state; use de-escalation strategies as needed; provide reassurance, comfort and a chance to engage in calming/distracting activities.

By understanding micro transitions, implementing support strategies, and building self-management skills, we can help reduce distress and support students with SEN to better navigate the challenges of each school day. With consistency and practice over time, transitions may even become second nature and less anxiety-provoking for students.

5 Evidence Based Strategies for Supporting Pupils with Micro-Transitons

Here are some evidence-based strategies to support autistic pupils with micro-transitions. The research links are at the end of this article:

  • Provide advance notice of transitions. Giving autistic students advance warning that a transition is coming up helps them prepare for the change. This could be a verbal reminder a few minutes before a transition or a visual schedule that shows the sequence of activities, with the upcoming transition highlighted. Studies show advance notice improves transition behaviour and reduces distress. (Cote et al., 2014; Dettmer et al., 2000).
  • Use visual supports within lessons – think of the drawing used during attention autism. This can help with cognitive load and ease the ending of one activity and the start of another. Visual cues, like pictures, written words or objects such as taking a ball to the PE lesson can help make transitions more predictable and understandable for autistic students. Research shows that visual supports improve independence during transitions. (Banda et al., 2009; Bryan & Gast, 2000; Schmit et al., 2000).
  • Offer choices and autonomy when possible. Giving autistic students choices and control over transitions whenever possible, such as allowing them to select which activity comes next from a visual schedule, makes transitions easier. Studies show that providing choices leads to fewer disruptive behaviours during transitions.(Dyer et al., 1990; Schmit et al., 2000).
  • Use social stories. Social stories are short stories with simple text and images that walk students through how to successfully navigate a potentially stressful situation like a transition. Research shows social stories improve transition behavior and mental well-being (Iovannone et al., 2003; Scattone et al., 2002).
  • Provide reinforcement. Offering praise, rewards or access to a preferred activity/item after the pupil completes a transition helps reinforce successful transition behaviour. (Banda & Kubina, 2010; Bryan & Gast, 2000).
Micro transitons

References and Further Reading on Micro-Transitons

Banda, D. R., & Kubina, R. M. (2010). The effects of a transition routine on the disruptive behaviors of students with Autism. Journal of International Special Education, 25, 61-71.

Bryan, L. C., & Gast, D. L. (2000). Teaching on-task and on-schedule behaviors to high-functioning children with autism via picture activity schedules. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(6), 553–567. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005644926916

Cote, C. A., Thompson, R. H., Hanley, G. P., & McKerchar, P. M. (2014). Teacher report and direct assessment of preference for varied versus repetitive activities in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(6), 1280–1291. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-013-1983-8

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. https://doi.org/10.1177/108835760001500307

Dyer, K., Dunlap, G., & Winterling, V. (1990). Effects of choice making on the serious problem behaviors of students with severe handicaps. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23(4), 515–524. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1990.23-515

Iovannone, R., Dunlap, G., Huber, H., & Kincaid, D. (2003). Effective educational practices for students with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 18(3), 150–165. https://doi.org/10.1177/10883576030180030301

Scattone, D., Wilczynski, S. M., Edwards, R. P., & Rabian, B. (2002). Decreasing disruptive behaviors of children with autism using social stories. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32(6), 535–

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