Transitions have always been difficult for my son, Garrett, who was born with Smith-Magenis Syndrome (SMS).

That has never been more evident than when he leaves and returns from school. Below are some methods that we have found to have been successful.

1. Try to encourage independence. For the longest time, I could not understand what was upsetting Garrett in the mornings. He was fine getting his things, leaving the house and holding my hand as we walked down the driveway. But as soon as I spoke to his bus driver, he would scream, slap his head and turn on the “meltdown mode.” In those days, he was non-verbal and unable to express what was upsetting him. I called his bus driver and hatched a plan to have him walk to the bus alone. When I said goodbye at the door, he was ecstatic. I was amazed at how well he was able to walk down the driveway and navigate the bus steps without my assistance. Best of all, he didn’t have to “share” the driver’s attention with me and the behaviors improved.

2. Have an action “TO DO” at the time of the transition. Garrett found this solution while waiting on the porch for the bus. He would pick a bloom off a flower or even leaves off a bush…and hold it tight until the bus arrived. He was so pleased to be able to give the driver a “gift” each morning, but I think that there was more to it. He needed something “to do.” A job that could be repeated every day and establish a routine to the process.

3. Duplicate what happens in other situations. When winter arrived, there were no more “gifts” to pick for the driver. Garrett returned to his “meltdown mode”, but this time the screaming and slapping started at our front door. Since there was no chance of my black thumb growing flowers indoors, I had to find a quick solution. I just happened to have a roll of raffle tickets left over from a fundraiser. I told Garrett that it was a bus ticket, like the one Calliou used in a recent episode. This trick has worked so well that Garrett still uses it, ten years later. Seriously, one roll of raffle tickets goes on forever!

Special Needs Transitioning - 'bus ticket'
Special Needs Transitioning - ‘bus ticket’

4. Have a positive reinforcement waiting after school. I hate the word “reward” because it implies that Garrett had to earn it. After school, no matter how extreme his behavior was getting off the bus, Garrett received the reinforcement. Just like the examples above, I was trying to create a routine: get off the bus, walk down the driveway, enter the front door and obtain the reward. Unlike the bus ticket, I have not found a consistent object that has lasted for longer than one or two school years.

Here are a few examples:

Prize Box: I took a small box (the ones the new checks are mailed in) and wrote “Garrett’s Box” on the outside. Inside, I would place cheap trinkets (band aids, tattoos, yo-yos, etc.) and wave it above my head while Garrett was getting off the bus. He was so excited to see what was in the box. Rarely did he even want what was in the box. In fact, I kept re-using the same 20 prizes over and over.

Stickers: Eventually, the box lost its appeal. Garrett’s very kind bus driver offered to give him a sticker when he got off the bus. She would put it on his shirt and he ran to the front door to show me.

Stickers in an Envelope: After a few months, Garrett would start to have a meltdown each day at “sticker time.” He would get overwhelmed at the choices and change his mind…back and forth…until he worked himself up into state where I would have to carry him off the bus. And again, with help from the driver and bus aide, they started cutting the stickers apart and putting them in a plain (SEALED!) envelope. Garrett was not allowed to open the envelope until he was inside our house.

Hot Chocolate: When the novelty of the stickers started to fade, I reached out to other SMS parents. One of my girlfriends told me that she was buying boxes of individual packets of hot chocolate and sneaking them to the bus driver. Each day, her SMS child would get a packet from the driver and walk straight to the kitchen to make his drink.

Chocolate Milk: My son does not like hot drinks, but he is obsessed with chocolate milk. I bought small snack bags and filled them with 2 tablespoons of chocolate milk mix.

Special Needs Transitioning - Chocolate Milk
Special Needs Transitioning - Chocolate Milk

The driver gives Garrett his baggie and he goes inside to make his drink. Keeping it down to once a day makes the treat more “special” and a reason to go into the house. Trying to stay one step ahead of Garrett continues to be a challenge, so I am always looking for new ideas. What methods have helped your child work through transitions?

Please share your ideas in the comment section.

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