Learn how to use First and Then boards, and avoid making the mistake that most people make when introducing this concept for the first time.
First and next boards are elementary schedules that we use to help children with autism learn what activities will happen next. They can also be of benefit to any child or student who finds it challenging to transition from one activity to another.
The boards help to show what activity is to be done now, and what has to be done next. They are generally presented on a piece of A4 paper or card with the words First/Next displayed clearly.
First represents what’s happening now, and next represents what’s going to happen later. Put one symbol to represent first, and another one to show next, then explain to your student what task needs to be done now, and what needs to be done next.
I tend to use real-life pictures of each task with my students. For students that cannot identify images yet, I like to use the actual object. For example, I stick a Lego brick on the first box and a playdough container on the next box. However, I use symbols for older students. Using symbols helps to simplify the work involved in printing and laminating the boards, as you could, for example, have a symbol for tabletop work, and another for garden time, rather than having to print lots pictures of specific activities.
If you want to introduce the First/Next board to a child for the very first time, make sure you select two activities that the child enjoys. Initially, the child might think that those two pictures represent a choice board, that is why it’s crucial to dedicate time to teach that the two images (or objects) represent a sequence of events.
So I always begin with two activities children enjoy so they are naturally interested in the boards. If you were to choose an activity that the child doesn’t enjoy with the promise of a reward, they might refuse to take part! So keep it fun and interesting until the student develops the habit of using the First/Next boards consistently. Gradually introduce more challenging activities first and always a preferred activity or a reward next.
Over time, we want to teach children to delay gratification, a skill that is very important for all children, not only children with special needs. Children will be likely to succeed in school, and in life, if they can delay gratification for a better outcome in the future. It’s an important lesson to learn that first we have to complete our obligations and afterwards we can then have time to have fun or relax!
For a toddler that might simply be First, you brush your teeth, Next storytime. At the same time, an older child might be able to understand that First, they have to do their homework and next they get to watch some TV.
I understand that introducing visual supports might seem tedious to begin with – but it’s really worth the extra effort. Over time and with consistency, you will see your child co-operating more at home and in school, and developing good habits that will be hugely beneficial to both you and your child or student long into the future.
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