Thursday, January 7, 2016

DIY First/Then Board to Curb Behavior

The madness is back into full swing now that we are back from Christmas vacation and the kids are back in school.  My middle child has not wanted to practice his sight words or do his homework. My husband and I have been struggling with his behavior this week.  I think he is extremely tired.  We have been making sure he is getting enough sleep, but this increase in behavior had me look back to my toolbox.  What could I find to curb some of these conflicts before they start? 
I decided to pull out the good old First/Then board. 
A first/then board is a simplified type of visual schedule.  It tells the child/individual what will happen first and what will follow.  I used these boards countless times when I was a preschool teacher. 
Visual schedules are often used with individuals with autism.  Visual schedules are beneficial, because individuals with ASD often process visual information much more readily than auditory information.  The same can be true for young children. Visual supports have been shown to help students with autism transition between activities, stay on task, and engage in activities (Bryan & Gast 2000; Dettmer et al. 2000; MacDuff et al. 1993; Massey & Wheeler 2000; Morrison et al. 2002).  Based on Knight, Sartini, and Sprigg’s (2015) literature review, visual activity schedules are an evidence based practice.  That means they have been shown to be effective.
First/Then boards can be used on a contingency basis.  If there is an activity that the child is not fond of doing, you can follow it with a motivating activity.  For example, if homework time is challenging, but you know your child loves playing games on the computer you can set up your board like this:

You present the board to the child and say, “First you will do homework, then you can play computer games.”  You can even simplify the directive to: “First homework, then computer.” You may feel like a caveperson at first talking this way, but often children are bombarded with auditory information.  My son tries so hard to listen all day at kindergarten.  When he comes home, he is spent.  He has a difficult time sifting through what is important info and what is just fluff.  So, I make it easier on him and just say the essentials when using the first/then board.
What are some activities or times of the day that are a struggle for your child?  Could you find a motivating activity or reward to follow up the difficult activity?  Remember the post about giving choices?  The same important concept applies here.  Your “then” activity must be available and feasible.  Do not use “First wash hands, then blow bubbles” if you are fresh out of bubbles.  The intervention will lose its power, if you are not able to follow through on the “then” portion.  You will want the “then” activity to immediately follow the completion of the “first” activity.
Here is set of activity cards to get you started.  I like to pair the pictures with words in order to foster early literacy.  You can find your own clip art pictures on the internet to use according to your child’s preferences and needs. 
To make the first/then board, I used a 4X6 photo album. 
I used green and red scrapbook paper to make each section.  I used these colors, because green means “go” and red means “stop.”
 I used stickers to write “first” and “then” on the pages before slipping them into the plastic pages. 
Print the activities on plain paper and cut out the activity pieces. I stored all my extra activity pieces in the pages behind the board. 
This method is great, because you don’t have to mess with laminating or Velcro!  And it is portable!  Just throw it in your purse!
The Research:
Bryan, L. C., & Gast, D. L. (2000). Teaching on-task and onschedule behaviors to high-functioning children with autism via picture activity schedules. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 553–567.
Dettmer, S., Simpson, R. L., Smith Myles, B., & Ganz, J. B. (2000). The use of visual supports to facilitate transitions of students with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 15(3), 163–169.
Knight, V., Sartini, E., Spriggs, A. D.  (2015).  Evaluating visual activity schedules as evidence based practice for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.  Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders, 45, 157-178.
MacDuff, G. S., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1993). Teaching children with autism to use photographic activity schedules: Maintenance and generalization of complex response chains. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26, 89–97.
Massey, G. N., & Wheeler, J. J. (2000). Acquisition and generalization of activity schedules and their effects on task engagement in a young child with autism in an inclusive pre-school classroom. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 35, 326–335.
Morrison, R. S., Sainato, D. M., Benchaaban, D., & Endo, S. (2002). Increasing play skills of children with autism using activity schedules and correspondence training. Journal of Early Intervention, 25(1), 58–72.

See where I link up each week, here


  1. As the mother of 3 and a parent educator, I can tell you that this is a great parenting tool. Congrats, you're featured this week at the #ThisIsHowWeRoll Link Party on Organized 31.

  2. I love first/then charts. They work well with kids, and also for adults. I mean, don't we like to know what happens next? Thanks for adding this post to's Tuesday special needs link share.

    1. Thank you for the opportunity to add to the link party. Yes, I agree! Knowing what comes next relieves a lot of stress!