Joshua is a handsome 14-year old boy with a great smile. He’s also on the severe end of the autism spectrum. He struggles with following spoken instructions, but because he has strong visual skills, visual communication strategies can be very effective teaching tools. One of the best visual communication tools for teaching skills and minimizing challenging behaviors is the
What is a First Then Board? A First-Then Board is a positive support strategy used to help children with language and/or behavior needs complete specific tasks. The First-Then Board is considered a visual communication tool and it typically displays two pictures at once. The “first” is usually a picture of a non-preferred activity and the “then” is a picture of a preferred activity. The child must do the first before being able to do the second activity. It helps with both receptive and expressive communication. Children benefit from a First-Then Board by being able to learn exactly what is expected of them.
How does it work?
To help with specific task completion, the adult (teacher, parent) will place two pictures on a First-Then Board. These pictures may be a sequence (ie: first potty, then wash hands) or separate tasks (ie: first writing, then play trains), or a task and reward (ie: first math, then cookie). The pictures should be given along with the words and/or signs.
Who can use this?
A First-Then Board is a visual strategy that parents and teachers use to help a child complete desired tasks. Most children can be taught simple routines at a very young age with a First – Then Board. A child with Autism who has language and behavior needs will respond much better when the expectations are clear and simple as shown on a First-Then Board. A child with cognitive delays can refer to this simple schedule of what to do. A child with behavior needs can understand there is a set end to the non-preferred task and they can make it to the preferred choice. With the choices displayed, they become more concrete and almost contractual to both the child and adult, so the child knows if I first… then I will… (Keep in mind it is only effective if the adult follows through as well.)
When can this strategy be used?
This visual strategy can be used to teach a new skill, manage challenging behaviors, or support a simple schedule / sequence. It can be used throughout the day from morning routines (ie: first dressed, then breakfast), to schoolwork (ie: first clean-up, then outside), to meal times (ie: first carrots, then dessert).
Here’s a short training video on how to use a First-Then Board and the key to using it effectively:
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Michael Woods, M.A. BCaBA CPI