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Visual Timers to help with Transitions and Behaviors for Children with Autism and Special Needs

Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions about how to help children with transitions and behaviors with life skill activities. I wanted to take the time to share some of my experiences with using visual timers to help children with transitions and decrease their frustration and anger.

The concept of time can be difficult for children and teenagers to learn. If we are constantly verbally telling a child they have to do this activity for 5 minutes, but they have no idea how long 5 minutes is (they may think that seems like FOREVER) and then they can become frustrated and angry. Teaching the concept of time can be difficult, but with the help of a visual timer, the child can visually see how fast the timer is going and how much time is left before the activity can be over.

This way when they ask you, “how much time is left?” you can show them the timer and they can visually see it for themselves.

How does this help with transitions?

If you are working with a child that needs to complete an activity that they would prefer not to do, but need to (such as take a shower or brush their teeth) you can get out the timer and set a certain amount of time that they need to work on that skill for. This will give them a clear explanation of what is expected of them for time to work on that specific skill. They still may not like to complete that skill, but they will understand how long they need to participate with that skill.

I also like to use verbal cues of “First we do this… (a non-preferred activity) Then you can do this (a preferred activity). This phrase can help the child better understand what is expected of them. Both of these techniques allow you to communicate with the child in a way that they will understand better and then hopefully there won’t be as much frustration for the child. If we can give them clear expectations in a way they can understand, our hope is that they will be more successful at completing the activity.

Additionally, changes in routine and schedule can be difficult for some children. When using a visual timer, this can allow you time to explain to the child that we will need to start our next activity when the timer goes off. Allow them time to prepare for the change with setting a visual timer for about 5 minutes (or however long they need) to help them realize they need to start to clean up and move on to the next activity. This way there isn’t an abrupt change and hopefully they will do better with dealing with the change in the activity.

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I have compiled a list of visual timers that are available from Amazon down below. The only timer that I have personally used is the Time Timer and I loved using this timer. It was large enough for the child to see from across the room and the bright red color count down was easy to see as well. It really helped the child to understand how much time was left to work on the specific skill we were addressing. The rest of the timers listed were highly recommended from Amazon and I wanted to be able to provide you with a variety of options to choose from to see what will work best for your situation.

Time Timer

This timer was my favorite and was easy to use and set. It was easy for the child to see from across the room with the bright red coloring. I would highly recommend this timer for someone looking for a visual timer for their child.

Time Tracker Mini

This timer looked nice for a smaller space or something you could hold onto. When the time is set, the green light glows, then changes to yellow as a warning to prepare for the end of the task, and then red to indicate the end of the activity. You can also use sound to alert the child that the timer is going off as well. This could be a great tool to use to help with transitions!

Time Tracker

This time tracker timer is a larger than the mini one, but does a great job as well! It has 3 light colors as well with green, yellow, and red and then 6 sound cues as well to help the child understand how much time is remaining. Since this is a larger timer it could be used in a room or a classroom and the child would still be able to see the timer. This is another great tool to help with smoother transitions between activities.

Time Timer Watch 

This could be a great visual timer for someone a little older who wants to try to be more independent with their daily routine! This watch has three features with a clock, alarm, and countdown timer. It can also allow vibrating and audible alerts as well. This could be a great option for our teenagers and adults!

The Miracle Cube Timer

This cube timer looks like so much fun! It can easily be set for 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, and 7 minutes! All you have to do is place the number on top that you want the timer to count down from. It could be a great tool to help with tooth brushing (to help the child understand how long to brush their teeth for) as well as hand washing! It is small and easy to take with you and can be used anywhere in the home!

Stoplight Golight Timer 

This is another timer with the green, yellow, and red stoplight features that can be easy for younger kids to understand. This timer can be set for 0-15 hours and 0-59 minutes as well as it has an audible timer as well. This could be great for kids who really love cars and would love the look of the stop light!

Talking Timer

This last timer, I wanted to include as an option for more of an auditory timer for kids that may have some visual difficulties. This is a talking timer that can talk up or down. This timer is very portable and can even clip to their shirt or belt or be free standing. This could be a great option for someone with visual difficulties.

We hope that you have found these visual timers to be helpful and we would love to hear back from you as to which timers are your favorite! Do you have one that works well for your child? We would love to hear more in the comments below!

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Does your child have difficulty learning personal hygiene skills? Check out our Ebook Everyday Life Skills Personal Hygiene Skills in the Bathroom HERE for tons of resources and tips to help your loved one become more independent!