Guest Post: Rethinking Transitions

I came across a post on Facebook by Barbara Laird, a parent and champion for people with disabilities. What I loved about the post is that it was a very powerful way of getting people to recognize how we often don’t look at our own behavior, and instead try to impose “our” will on children, when we really should be listening and understanding instead. I have found when we can look at a situation and anchor it to our own adult experiences, it is easier to make a shift in our thinking. Barbara’s message certainly brings this point home. I am honoured to share Barbara’s message with you.


Welcoming address to The 4th Health and Wellbeing in Children, Youth and Adults with Developmental Disabilities Conference, October 2014, Vancouver, British Columbia

By: Barbara Laird BEd.

Thank you to the committee for asking me to do a welcoming address, I am very honored…I am going to read my address…. something I never do, but need to keep on track.

Welcome to all of you….whether its day 1, 2 or 3…..we hope you enjoy the presentations and connecting.

The theme of our conference is  LIFE TRANSITIONS…….so I am going to share a few thoughts I have ……as a teacher and a parent of a 30 year old daughter with Down Syndrome…. around helping individuals of all ages …..that you live with and work  have more success in dealing with them.

Transitions are hard…for anyone, but are especially difficult when you have a developmental disability and mental health issues…like anxiety, OCD and PTSD.

Often when we think about transitions we do think about the big ones…from IDP to preschool, to elementary school, to high school and then to after…to life. And all these transitions need to be supported, to be well planned and to be executed with thoughtfulness and individuality…and can also be helped by using the tools that I am going to share with you.

But today I want to focus our attention on the transitions that as a parent and as an educator and consultant, that I spend the most time dealing with…..because not dealing with these transitions, not paying attention to them causes behaviours…guaranteed….

And these transitions, are the smaller ones,  the transitions of daily life  that can compose at least 20 percent of any given day……from changes in routine, clothes, food, people, activities, expectations, classes….bathrooms…the list is endless.

So, to begin….first…to help us all understand the power of anxiety and the power of transitions on even us …… OOOPS…….I forgot to share one housekeeping detail with you…

At the end of this main session…we are going to give you each a brown envelope…  I want you to write your name on the front of it and as you exit…to place your cell phone and all your electronics in it…seal it and we will keep it until the end of the day…and after our 4:30 adjournment…you can pick it up at the registration desk.


I am not really going to collect your cell phones and electronics but I wanted to use them as an example of how important they are to us and how we feel when we don’t have access to them. Because they are our tools to our survival especially during and for all our personal transitions.

And I want to use cellphones as a metaphor of the 4 tools they provide you on a daily basis…and how we all need to provide and use these same 4 tools in all transitions, both large and small…. with our loved ones and our clients of ALL ages.

  1. The first tool your cell phone gives you is a VISUAL….it is your visual schedule, calendar, picture, time line, to do lists, gives time of day…it is your social story…the list is endless. Your cell phone gives you all these visual cues …and we need to also always provide visual cues and tools for all the children and adults with developmental disabilities you live with and work with.

AND DO NOT TAKE THEM AWAY…ever and use them no matter what their age.

YOU never take them away from yourself…remember how you felt when I was going to take your visual tool…your cell phone.

  1. TIME…your cell phones give you time, to ponder, to think, to reexamine what you are doing and when.

We also need to give our family members and clients time to understand, to think, to process information, around transitions. And when giving time…give them what you give yourself…time without having someone constantly talk AT you……back away, and let them think quietly and alone, zip your mouths and give them peace to think…just like you give yourself.

  1. ACTIVITIES FOR WAIT TIME. Your phone gives you activities while you are waiting…you can text, look at email or facebook, play suduko, read, make your grocery list…the list is endless.

Yet when it comes to individuals of all ages, with developmental disabilities we expect them to wait….with nothing to occupy them…and then are surprised when they have challenges and misbehave.

We expect them to wait for Handi Dart, for the school bus, for class to start, for the assembly, in a line up…on and on.

So ensure they have a preferred activity to do or in their hands while waiting. Swinging is calming, or any exercise, coloring is calming, doodling, drawing, suduko, word searches, reading a book, listening to music, playing games on an electronic device….whatever they like to do, whatever keeps them calm and relaxed…let them do it while they are waiting.

  1. Your cell phone is your STUFFIE….you hold it, carry it, can’t live without having its physical presence with you, you love the feeling of confidence, or comfort, of knowing you are connected, the lessening of anxiety that it gives you….you love holding it, caressing it.

So, for the individuals you work with and live with, let them carry, hold, have in their pocket or backpack what they need to feel connected, safe and less anxious, something they too can caress and feel.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a stuffie, of Elmo or an animal, a toy, a rabbits foot, a book or CD,……..and forget about age appropriate…anything is appropriate if it helps an individual relax, participate and learn…and helps prevent the behaviours that being anxious, uncertain and disconnected cause them to engage in.

SO…transitions…a huge concern and difficult for all of us…….but even more for those with challenges.

In dealing with transitions, large and small…if you are faced with challenges with behaviour or want to ensure smooth and stress free transitions remember your cell phone and the tools it gives you…

  1. Visuals
  2. Time
  3. Activities for wait time
  4. And the comfort of having your personal stuffie..

and use those same tools to help the individuals of all ages that you live with and work with.

They already have so many challenges….providing these kinds of tools will make their life and your lives so much smoother and easier.

I hope that you enjoy the rest of the day…and have enjoyed the conference overall…and that all your transitions go well.

It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of this important conference…and I truly welcome any personal contact if you want to talk more…and I don’t charge…I am not a lawyer….

Barbara Laird


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