Autism Warning: Timers Don't Always Work

by Penny Woodin Rogers


When I was new to the autism parenting world, I read many articles and blog posts. Time and time again people would say how timers and visual timers saved the day. Timers help children on the autism spectrum with transitions, they said. So I tried it.


Eager to smooth transitions and cut down on meltdowns, I started setting the microwave timer. “You have 15 minutes to pick up your toys,” I would say. Or, “There are ten minutes until the bus comes. Time to get ready.” And the meltdown happened anyway. My young child spent most of the fifteen minutes on the floor crying and exclaiming, still overwhelmed.


Huh? Where was the supposed magic? What about the happy child, moving forward with a task? I was stumped.


One day, God reached down in His mercy and gave me a thought. “Folks with autism like control. It helps them feel better. Put him in control of the timer.”


What a brilliant idea! I was so hopeful.


I pulled the kitchen stool over in front of the microwave. I taught my son how to set a timer. I showed him the button to push to start it. And I let him set the time and start the timer.


Guess what? It worked! The simple tweak of putting my son in control of the timer took away the overwhelm of the timer. He would set the timer and get to work.


(Now, it wasn’t all rainbows and roses. If I gave him a task that was too large, he’d still freeze up. But at least we found a way to use a timer successfully most of the time. Just chalk it up to one more thing I learned as an autism parent.)


So, taking this concept of giving our kids with autism control to ease some of their anxiety, what else could we do? Here are some more ideas:


  • Struggling to get multiple tasks done? Let your child choose which one to do first.
  • Often choices are too overwhelming for our children on the autism spectrum. Offer two or three acceptable choices, then let your child decide. This eases overwhelm and also allows control. For example, “Do you want to wear your soft sweatshirt or your Minecraft hoodie today?”
  • Is your child having a rough day? Ask him if he would like to participate in an activity or take a break. Then respect his decision.
  • Invite your daughter to choose a meal for dinner and help cook it.
  •  Present a few games for family fun time and let your child decide which one to play.


Next time your child continues to have meltdowns after you’ve tried to help, stop and think. Is there a way you can let your child have more control over the situation? Though not foolproof (Is anything in the autism world?), this strategy can help minimize the meltdown frequency. If you’d like more practical tips you can put to use right away, grab your free copy of Superhero’s Guide to Special Needs Parenting: Quick Tips to Help You and Your Child Soar.


Used by Permission: Originally published at


Penny, has two children, Logan who has autism and Madison who is pursuing a dance career. Based on her own personal and often difficult experiences with autism, she hopes to educate families of children with autism on how to navigate their world from pre diagnosis to adulthood.