Visual Schedule Series: First-Then Schedules (Freebie!!) - Autism Classroom Resources (2023)

First-then schedules are some of the simplest types of visual supports that we use with students with autism spectrum disorder and other special needs. Simply put, it just presents what we need to do now (first) and what we will do next (then). It can be done with pictures, objects, in writing, or using apps. We typically use them in different ways depending on the student.

First-Then in Behavioral Support

Sometimes we use them for behavior supports, such as when we think (or know) that an individual doesn’t want to do something we want them to do. In that case, we present the thing we want them to do in the “first” and the thing they want to do in the “then.” The idea is to show them a preferred activity or a possible reinforcer to motivate them to complete the thing they don’t want to do. We often will use this type of first-then schedule on a board like the one below.

In this case we are using the first-then board to prevent problem behavior based on the Premack principle. The premack principle states that a low probability behavior can be reinforced by a high probability behavior. For instance, it’s a low probability

We use them proactively (before a problem) and when a student refuses to complete a task. Ideally it is best to use them proactively avoid having adding the preferred activity (then) in when there is a problem. Doing this could inadvertently reinforce the negative behavior (because it creates a reinforcement opportunity out of a problem).

(Video) How to Make a Flip Visual Schedule (for use with ANY icons!) | Visual Schedule Free Download

Organizing Behavioral Supports for Travel in School

In the picture above, the first-then board is used to show a student that sitting in his PE class will result in a reward from his token board. The first then board is part of the set of tools his staff use and they keep their tools in a zip up canvas notebook (e.g., Trapper Keeper) so they are readily at hand. The student has a full day schedule on the front of the notebook and the first-then is used when a problem is anticipated. This organization system worked well because his daily activity schedules, the set of pictures to use for his first-then board, his token boards and tokens, and his schedule board (on the front of the notebook) as well as his data sheets were all handy in the notebook that he took with him to different classes.

First-Then Using the Premack Principle

A first-then board can be a powerful tool to help a student complete a task they often resist. In this case, for example, early learners may not like to clean up after play time in a preschool. So we schedule snack time after play. And we can present it on the schedule with a first then board. We can show students the first activity (cleaning up) will be followed by the next activity (snack). This uses the Premack principle of behavior analysis. In short, the Premack principle states that high-probability behaviors can serve as a reinforcer for low probability behaviors. So snack, a high probability of compliance activity, reinforces cleaning up, a low probability of compliance activity.

First-Then as a Daily Schedule

Visual Schedule Series: First-Then Schedules (Freebie!!) - Autism Classroom Resources (2)

In pictures on the left, the student is using the first-then schedule as his schedule for the day. In the top picture, you see a binder with first work then pack up. For this student, we started working with him using a full-day schedule that was on the wall. In working with him for a day, we realized that he was struggling with the number of transitions this created for him. So, checking his schedule became an antecedent for problem behaviors. Each time he had to go to the wall, check the schedule, go to the check-in board and put on the visual. It was difficult for him to understand the process.

The second day we worked with him, we used this first-then schedule. The schedule itself was on the outside of a notebook. The events of his day were on sheets inside the notebook in order. This allowed the staff working with him to quickly switch out the visuals for each transition. We started with the scheduled activity being followed by a reinforcer (e.g., first work with teacher, then play dough). Over time he was able to manage the schedule with just the events of the day. And eventually he was able to go into the notebook and change his own schedule. This greatly increased his independence throughout the day.

When we first gave him the notebook, the look of comprehension that came over his face was amazing to see. It seemed as if he was saying, “Oh! Now I get it!” His behavior was significantly better using this schedule than the first one we tried. The picture below is a similar situation and you can see how we stored the schedule on the wall. This student was not able to independently manage his schedule. He did best when only shown 2 pictures at a time rather than a full-day schedule.

(Video) Autism Life: Visual Schedule Printables # 1

Caution with Daily Schedules

A word of caution, however. Don’t start an entire class on first-then notebook schedules at the same time when they haven’t been taught to use them. We tried that one time and were constantly looking for the schedules because the students weren’t independent at keeping track of them. In short, it was disaster. The next day we broke it down and just started with 2 of the students. Then we added more as the first ones became independent. You can also use first-then boards to show students what will happen after a desired activity. Helping students to know what is coming next sometimes helps them to make the transition more easily.

First-Then Doesn’t Have to be Pretty

Most students using a first-then schedule will need picture or symbol cards depicting the daily activities or the steps and reinforcers for the first-next routines. However, some students just require the structure and are readers. In that case you can use the on-the-fly option. You can just draw it out on paper, post-its or dry erase board and use writing if the student can read. Just make sure that the student is able to clearly comprehend what is written.

Implementing the First-Then Chart

When presenting the first-then schedule, as with most visual tools, try to minimize your verbal directions. Typically the teacher would give the verbal instruction one time. Then the teacher points to visuals to direct the student. The use of the nonverbal redirection reduces language overwhelming the student, can help ease anxieties, and also allows you to fade the prompts from the system more quickly than using verbal prompts. Sometimes you will need to wait the student out. Just continue to point to the visuals and wait. Depending on the situation, if the student is going to respond, they typically will do so in a few minutes. If not, then you may need to look for other options for dealing with potential challenging behaviors. But for many students, the visual first-next board can be an important first step in understanding classroom structure and following routines.

Organizing First-Then in the Classroom

Because first then boards are easy to use and typically get a quick response, I tend to put one out on every table, especially at the beginning of the school year. You want to make sure you have lots of visual supports around whenever there are changes or transitions within the year.

In addition , make sure to have a number of activity visuals available with the boards for the second activity (the preferred activities). These might come off a choice board or you might use a “make a choice” visual as an option that they can choose from a choice board. That might save you having to have a ton of visuals around.

(Video) Visual Schedules At Home

Looking to get started with first-then boards? Simply download the boards, laminate it, and put velcro on it to hold the pictures.


This first-then download is expanded from the version available in my TpT Store. It includes boards in different sizes, with less color, and in black and white. And you are welcome to send them home to parents of students on your caseload.

Grab them from the Free Resource Library. Click below to navigate or join the free library.

Grab the Free First-Then

(Video) Step 3: Individual student and Staff Schedules [Self Contained Basics Course]

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on different types and uses for visual schedules. You cancheck out the visual schedule series here.


How do you make a visual schedule for autism? ›

How to make a visual schedule
  1. Identify the target skill or routine. For example, if you want to make the morning routine easier, focus on that for a visual schedule first. ...
  2. Find the right visual style. ...
  3. Include a mix of activities. ...
  4. Keep the schedule accessible. ...
  5. Involve your child in the process. ...
  6. Involve other caregivers.
24 May 2022

Why are visual schedules important for autism? ›

A visual schedule is helpful for breaking down a task that has multiple steps to ensure the teaching and compliance of those steps. It is also helpful in decreasing anxiety and rigidity surrounding transitions by communicating when certain activities will occur throughout the day or part of the day.

What is a visual schedule in autism? ›

What is a visual schedule? Visual schedules are an intervention that can help individuals with autism follow a routine, transition between activities, develop new skills, and reduce dependence on caretakers when completing daily activities.

What are the two types of visual schedule? ›

They also help establish routines, reduce anxiety, and can even teach flexibility. There are different types of visual schedules: Object schedules. TOBI schedules.

What is one problem with a first then strategy? ›

The Wrong Way to Use First/Then Charts for Autistic Children

You want your autistic child to do something that they don't want to do. In order to get them to do that activity, you're going to say 'first do the thing I want you to do that you don't want to do, then you get to do the thing you want to do'.

What is the first then strategy? ›

A 'first-then' board is a strategy that you may use before a potentially challenging situation occurs with your child. This strategy can be used to clarify expectations by showing your child what first needs to be completed before gaining access to one of their preferred items/activities.

What is the purpose of a first then board? ›

A “First-Then” board is an introductory visual tool that can be used to communicate instructions or expectations to a child. This strategy is based on the belief that a child's motivation to complete a less preferred activity is increased when it is followed by a more preferred activity.

What are the benefits of a visual schedule? ›

Visual schedules assist with comprehension, providing another channel for learning, and are easily accessible should a student need to be reminded of the day's events. Visual schedules also help students with ASD in becoming independent of adult prompts and cues (Mesibov, Shea, & Schopler, 2005).

Why do many teachers use pictures and visual schedules often for learners with autism? ›

Visual supports and visual schedules are used to help autistic children improve their skills in: processing information. understanding and using language. understanding and interacting with their physical and social environments.

What do visual schedules accomplish? ›

Visual schedules provide clear information needed to understand what is expected and where to go next as the child moves throughout the day. It is also helpful decreasing anxiety and rigidity surrounding transitions by communicating when certain activities will occur.

What kind of Prompt is a visual schedule? ›

A visual prompt is a picture or cue that the student sees which provides information about the correct answer. Can involve a visual schedule, video, photograph, drawing, flashing a card with the right answer, etc.

Who can benefit from visual schedules? ›

Visual scheduling is a systematic technique that enhances learning and communication for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These types of visual supports provide teachers and parents with the tools needed to help children reach development goals and achieve success in life.

Are visual schedules evidence based? ›

Research indicates that using visual activity schedules can be an evidence based practice for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) particularly when used along with systematic instructional procedures.

What are 3 ways structure supports students with autism? ›

This chapter discusses the features of structure that have proven useful in classrooms for students of all ages with autism. These features are physical organization, scheduling, and teaching methods. The key to effectively using each of these features is individualization.

What are the best resources for autism? ›

  • Autism Speaks. ...
  • 100 Days Kit, Autism Speaks. ...
  • A Parent's Guide to Evidence-Based Practice and Autism. ...
  • Autism Source, Autism Society of America (ASA) ...
  • Autism NOW. ...
  • Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education (AWAARE) ...
  • Department of Education. ...
  • Life Journey Through Autism Series, Organization for Autism Research (OAR)
31 Mar 2022

What are the 3 types of scheduling? ›

The three schedule types are known as the Capacity schedule, Resource schedule, and Service schedule. In some ways, they overlap in what they can do, and for some applications more than one will work.

What are the four main categories of visuals? ›

There are four main types of mieruka (visual control): informative, instructional, identification and planning.

How do you introduce a visual schedule to a child? ›

Include your child in the creation of the visual schedule as much as possible. Let your child draw the pictures or take photos of your child doing the activity. Children LOVE seeing themselves in photos. You can also ask your child's teacher for help with creating a visual schedule.

What is an example of an appropriate first then statement? ›

First-Then Statements/Boards

For example, “First clean up, then you can play videogames.

How do you teach first next then last? ›

Ask the child to pick out which step happened first and place that on a sequencing strip (like in the picture above) or just in front of them on the table. Then, ask them which step happened next. Place that one next to the first picture and finally ask the child what happened last and lay that one in the line.

What is first then in ABA? ›

A “First, Then” schedule will provide a visual representation of the order in which tasks need to be completed. The goal of a “First, Then” board is to build and practice positive behaviors within a child's ABA therapy treatment pln.

What is three before me strategy? ›

'3 Before Me' is a simple classroom strategy–arguably both a teaching and learning strategy–that requires that when students experience a challenge, they must first ask three different people for help before reaching out to the teacher.

What is the Premack principle in ABA? ›

Basically, the Premack principle states that engaging in more probable behaviors or activities can reinforce engaging in less probable behaviors or activities. It is a reinforcement principle, meaning it can be used to teach adaptive behaviors by offering fun behaviors as a reward.

What is the before during and after strategy? ›

“Before” strategies activate students' prior knowledge and set a purpose for reading. “During” strategies help students make connections, monitor their understanding, generate questions, and stay focused. “After” strategies provide students an opportunity to summarize, question, reflect, discuss, and respond to text.

What is first and then board? ›

First and Then Board: Designed for children and young people on the spectrum. Laminate the board attach Velcro and the board will be more durable. The purpose of the board is to attach symbols to allow a person to understand what are doing now and then. The boards reduce anxiety.

What is a first then contingency? ›

It's a Contingency Agreement

Receiving the reward, the “then”, is contingent upon your child completing the “first” demand. What is this? Report Ad. So if your child refuses to do the three questions on their homework – they don't get 5 minutes on the iPad.

Why is it important to have a bulletin board? ›

Bulletin boards convey information and encourage participation. Bulletin boards impart information and facilitate communication. Both traditional and online bulletin boards save time, keep people informed and can serve a variety of purposes, from inspiring students to providing information about community resources.

How do you teach visual schedules? ›

Place the visual schedule in a location that is easy for the child to refer to throughout the day. 2. Prior to starting the first activity or routine on the schedule, review with the child all the upcoming planned activities. Ensure the child is looking (attending) to the visual.

How do autistic people manage screen time? ›

It is recommended that you begin to gradually reduce screen time by selecting certain activities, such as play time with mom or mealtime, when screen time is not available. Then, you can gradually add more activities that don't include the screen so that the change occurs over time.

Do kids with autism need a schedule? ›

All people, regardless of age, lifestyle, or background, benefit from having an established schedule in their lives. Routines are particularly helpful for children with autism due to their repetitive patterns of behavior, activities, and hobbies.

Do autistic kids need a schedule? ›

Creating a consistent daily schedule is essential for children with ASD to thrive and cope in any environment. Routines, especially when pairing with ABA strategies, help reduce tantrums and stress, while fostering a sense of order in your child's life.

What 4 Key Questions should visuals for routines answer for children? ›

When you create a visual schedule, the CHILD should be able to use the schedule to answer the following questions: (1) What am I supposed to be doing? (2) How do I know that I am making progress? (3) How do I know when I am done? (4) What will happen next?

Why use First Then Visual Schedule? ›

First-then schedules are some of the simplest types of visual supports that we use with students with autism spectrum disorder and other special needs. Simply put, it just presents what we need to do now (first) and what we will do next (then). It can be done with pictures, objects, in writing, or using apps.

Why are visual schedules so important? ›

Visual schedules assist with comprehension, providing another channel for learning, and are easily accessible should a student need to be reminded of the day's events. Visual schedules also help students with ASD in becoming independent of adult prompts and cues (Mesibov, Shea, & Schopler, 2005).

How do you manage repetitive behavior in autism? ›

Strategies to use
  1. Understand the function of the behaviour. Think about the function of the repetitive behaviour or obsession. ...
  2. Modify the environment. ...
  3. Increase structure. ...
  4. Manage anxiety. ...
  5. Intervene early. ...
  6. Set boundaries. ...
  7. Example. ...
  8. Provide alternatives.
14 Aug 2020

Why are ipads good for autism? ›

On an iPad, an autistic child can create a sentence or even story using a series of images. By doing so, the child can communicate with parents, caretakers, and instructors without frustration. Since the iPad is mobile, children with autism can take this communication tool wherever they go.

How do you keep the attention of an autistic child? ›

Model tasks

To keep your child's attention on the task, you can use modelling while doing the activity together. For example, if you're making a two-bead necklace, you could start by putting a bead on the string. Then take your child's hand and help them put a bead on. Praise your child when they finish the activity.

What are 3 ways structure supports students with autism? ›

This chapter discusses the features of structure that have proven useful in classrooms for students of all ages with autism. These features are physical organization, scheduling, and teaching methods. The key to effectively using each of these features is individualization.

What should you not do to an autistic child? ›

The Dos & Don'ts When Interacting With Autistic Children
  1. Don't Approach Parents With Pity.
  2. Don't Bark Instructions.
  3. Don't Take Things Personally.
  4. Don't Assume Nonverbal Children Can't Communicate.
  5. Don't Insist on Eye Contact.
  6. Don't Use Creative Language.
  7. Don't Assume the Child Can't Hear.
  8. Don't Stare.
14 Dec 2021

What are good activities for autism? ›

Hobbies such as collecting stamps, playing cards or board games, drawing and photography can also provide opportunities for enjoyment, as well as increased self-confidence and motivation individuals on the spectrum.

How much screen time should an autistic child have? ›

The Benefits of Visual Supports for Autism
Age(years)Recommended Screen Time(hours/day)
1 more row

What time should an autistic child go to bed? ›

Set regular and appropriate bedtimes

For example, you might notice your child generally needs 11 hours of sleep. You also know you won't make it to school on time unless your child is up by 7 am. This means that 8 pm is the ideal bedtime for your child.

How much TV should an autistic child watch? ›

Create “unplugged” times and spaces in the home, so that plenty of talking and undistracted play can happen. Limit entertainment media to 1 hour a day so that kids have enough time to play, get outside, and get enough sleep.


1. Special Education Classroom Prep: Data Sheets, Practice Cards, Freebies, and Schedules
(That Special Educator)
2. 5 Must Have Visual Sequences For Autism (Home & School)
(Autism Little Learners)
3. Visual Schedules at Home - 5 Easy Steps
(Parent Training)
4. Visual Schedules
(Learning with Lucy)
5. co regulation and autism
(Autism Little Learners)
6. Sarah Dooley Center for Autism at St. Joseph's Villa Webinar: Maintaining a Visual Schedule
(St. Joseph's Villa)
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