First And Next Boards

First and next boards are very simple schedules that we use to help children with autism. They can also be of benefit to any child or student who finds it difficult to transition from one activity to another.

The boards help to show what activity has 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. Use Lámh signs alongside your instructions to further help your student to understand the exercise.

I tend to use real-life pictures of each task with my students. For students that cannot identify pictures 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 symbol 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. If you know your child or student well, you will know their favourite activities. If you don’t know the child yet, observe the child in the classroom or at home and take note of the toys or activities they enjoy the most.

Prepare the First/Next board by selecting an activity the child likes in the first part, and an activity the child likes even more for the next part. 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 may 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. Whereas an older child might be able to understand that First, they have to do their homework, Next they get to watch some TV.

One of the very first schedules that I introduced to my son Sebastian was First car Next shop. I did this because he would often become distressed every time we got ready to leave our house, he couldn’t understand why I was interrupting his play. I started showing him the relevant pictures for the activity consistently, and after some time, he began to understand that we were leaving to go to the shops. With time, the battles to get him ready ended, as he was now excited to go to the shops (and get a little treat of course!).

I used the First and Next boards for years, particularly to encourage my son to do things he didn’t like, such as homework. We had a board for First homework/Next Ipad, which is a reward that works for him. Once this habit was established, we didn’t need the visual supports anymore. Now he knows that his homework has to be done before he gets to play on the Ipad, it’s now part of his routine. He doesn’t need to be reminded anymore, he now does his chores and his homework, and he knows he can relax afterwards.

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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