Using Visual Timers is a Bright Idea!

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Many kids with autism spectrum disorder (like my son, Jack) have issues with transitions.
How can you help kids like that and ease the anxiety over those transitions?
First, I started using “visual countdowns” (a countdown without a specific amount of time attached to each number or item that’s removed).  I’ve seen them made with stars and strips of paper on velcro (you can search pinterest) but I use legos with number stickers on them for my countdown.  I remove the blocks as time passes, making sure that the last block being removed is when I want the transition to occur.
My Jack has to be given a countdown in almost any situation where there will be a change (there can be no surprises).  Even with him being almost 7, we still have to count him down when it approaches bedtime. “Jack, you have 5 minutes….Jack, you have 4 minutes…”

When he was little, he started to obsess over how much time 5 minutes actually was when we would tell him he had ‘5 minutes left’  (time is a very abstract concept for young children).   Of course, there are also times when, especially if he is anxious, he needs more than a simple verbal countdown or a visual countdown.   Which brings us to our visual timers…

On the suggestion of our special ed teacher at school, we started using visual timers a couple of years ago to limit his video game time and for really any situation where he needed to know that a change is coming.  It’s great because he can watch the time become smaller and when the activity is over, it is a smoother transition than it would be otherwise.   He also takes ownership with his timer, if I say that he has 30 minutes of video time, he will go and set the timer for 30 minutes. When the 30 minutes is up, he brings me the iPad and there’s hardly ever any fuss. 

 We have a large one for school and a small one for at home.  They work really well because as the time counts down, the red area becomes smaller.  It’s a perfect visual for kids to monitor the time remaining in any situation.  It was great when Jack was little for him to visualize the “time” passing.

Are you thinking, what about when I am not at home or school?  Easy, they have an app for that!  I have seen MANY apps for visual timers….all you have to do is search “visual timers” in your app store.    I have used them on my data projector for class assignments and the kids LOVE it!
The apps I’m showing below are all FREE!  Parents can use these apps if their child is struggling with transitions at home, too. They certainly have been a lifesaver for us!
Visual timers are useful for kids not on the spectrum, too.  I encourage you, especially if you have an autistic student in your classroom, to utilize visual timers or  a “visual countdown.”  You and your students will be glad you did!
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  1. I LOVE the lego idea! It made me think that about my little tactile kiddos could also benefit from taking the lego off them self – unless it was too much of a distraction – then we could use something "less fun" than legos.

  2. Hello friend! Sounds like a great idea to try with my son Garyn, who is also 7 and has Autism (Aspergers). Funny, he also asks me over and over, how much time until… My question is, where did you get your timers from? He has one at school also. Thanks so much, Cara;)

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