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Timers and Countdowns

Our students often have a difficult time with transitions between activities and require some additional preparation to go from anything non-preferred to preferred. One strategy that we’re particularly fond of is using warnings, countdowns, and timers. 

Warnings, countdowns, and timers fall into the category of Antecedent Manipulations, which mean that we’re changing the environment around our children to make it easier for them to manage a difficult situation. In this case, we’re working on preparing them for a transition and giving them the tools to wind down on their current activity and mentally prepare for going to the next activity.  

Depending on the child’s preference, we can use a verbal announcement (“Five minutes!” “Three Minutes!” “One Minute!” “Ten seconds!) at appropriate intervals, or we can use a visual timer that counts down the minutes, such as the ones we find on phones. While some learners take some time to learn the meaning behind timers, others are quick to pick up the sequence of events, or even find the timers a fun activity to help them transition. 

Additionally, we tend to pair timers and countdowns with functional communication training. In this case, if we identify that a student is not yet ready to transition after the countdown, we give them the option of asking for one more minute, or negotiating additional time when it’s appropriate. 

In practicality, we’ve found that this strategy can be used easily by most parents to signal the coming change.  

If you’re interested in using a visual timer, we love the Magnetic Time Tracker from Learning Resources. It acts as an alarm that uses audio and visual reminders (like color changes) to let the child know how soon their activity is ending. You can place it on a desk during schoolwork, the floor during playtime, or a magnetic surface like a fridge during morning routine. To purchase: https://www.learningresources.com/magnetic-time-trackerr

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