A first-then board is a visual tool. The theory behind using this tool is based on the idea that a person’s motivation will be increased when there is a desired activity following the activity they find less interesting. (A real life example might be that we finish doing the dishes and look forward to a cup of tea afterwards).
Using a first-then board is an additional tool which adds a visual support to your verbal instruction. It is really helpful for introducing new tasks, activities or events to help your child understand what to do and increase their motivation to complete the task. It is a lovely way to create a structured, predictable and supportive environment for children (and can be used with older teens with cognitive disability).
It also allows the child to choose an activity which is important for a sense of control in their world.
The First-Then Board helps to:
provide predictable environments/activities,
clarify expectations while providing sequencing of events,
support transitions (activity to activity or between locations),
reduce verbal information (prompts) provided to child,
increase motivation for completing an adult directed task/activity, and
prepare the child for using a visual schedule.
Things to Consider
Prior to introducing this visual, it is important to consider the following:
What is the goal of the first-then board for the child?
Have I provided my child with strong motivators to choose from for the ‘Then’?
Does your child respond to symbols, pictures, or text?
Does my child constantly ask questions regarding accessing a preferred item/activity, when a scheduled event will occur, or require reminders about the routines?
Does my child sometimes refuse to complete certain activities?
How to Use a First-Then Board
Decide which activities/items are preferred by your child. Have two or three to choose from if they find choosing difficult or more if they can manage picking one.
Ensure the tasks/activities your child is required to complete matches their ability. When introducing a first-then board, start with a neutral item/activity followed by a highly preferred item/activity.
Remember when introducing a first-then board, it is important to set up the child for success. Prompts can be used to assist and support your child to complete the activity prior to moving on to the preferred item/activity.
Present the first-then board to the child by labelling and pointing to the sequence on the first-then board (e.g., “First work, then computer”).
Ensure the preferred item/activity is available for the child when the work is completed.
It is important that the THEN step immediately follows the completion of the FIRST step. The duration of the preferred activity should be shorter than that of the work/non-preferred activity.
Tips and Strategies
Avoid repeating verbal instructions. Instead, point to the sequence on the first-then board.
Ensure child’s attention has been secured when introducing the first-then board.
The first-then board works best when powerful activities (reinforcers) are paired with less preferred activities. Similarly, if the activity is neutral, use smaller or less powerful reinforcers.
Do not allow access to the preferred activity if the child has not completed the first task/activity. If the task provided to the child is particularly difficult or non-preferred, consider modifying it so the child only has to complete a part of it before accessing the reinforcer. For example, if tidying toys is challenging, only require them to put away 1 or 2 blocks before allowing access to the reinforcer.
Therapists often use symbols for First-Then boards but it is just as easy to real objects (for smaller or cognitively delayed people) or use a sticky note and write the word and/or draw a simple picture. You can take the sticky note off easily and when the child has finished each activity to visually show finishing.
Over time, increase the expectation.
Keep the first-then board visible to the child at all times. Some children need to verify that the expectation remains the same.
Remember to work towards increasing independence. Your child can use the board to complete the task/activity and move to the reinforcing item/activity with minimal assistance.
A first-then board can be prepared in various formats: photographs, miniature objects, actual concrete objects, or texts. Therapists often use symbols for First-Then boards but it is just as easy to real objects (for smaller or cognitively delayed people) or use a sticky note and write the word and/or draw a simple picture. You can take the sticky note off easily and when the child has finished each activity to visually show finishing.
A first-then board can be used in conjunction with a choice board where the child will be given an opportunity to choose the item/activity they will receive afterwards (reinforcement).
Children’s Autism Services Edmonton
Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. Lentini, R., Vaughn, B.J., & Fox, L. (2005). Teaching tools for young children with challenging behavior. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida, Early Intervention Positive
Debbie and Vicky put this together and hope you find it helpful. We have attached a video which explains the First-Then board really well.
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