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A variety of different ways to use first-then schedules for students in special education. Includes a free schedule board to download. Great for students with autism.

Visual Schedule Series: First-Then Schedules (Freebie!!)

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First-then schedules are some of the simplest types of schedules that we use with students with autism and other disabilities.  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.
Sometimes we use them for behavior support, 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 above or below.
We use them proactively (before a problem) and when a student refuses to complete a task.  Ideally using them proactively is the best to avoid having adding the reinforcer (then) in when there is a problem, which could inadvertently reinforce the negative behavior (because it creates a reinforcement opportunity).
First-Then Schedules are great for students with autism and behavioral needs. Get a free board and read how you can use them in your special education classroom.
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.

First-Then Schedules are great for students with autism and behavioral needs. Get a free board and read how you can use them in your special education classroom.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 and 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 and 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.   At first 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 and he did best when only shown 2 pictures at a time rather than a full-day schedule.

For more complex learners this often is a great place to start.  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 and the next day we broke it down and just started with 2 of the students and then 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.

This next picture is a picture of an app I’ve used on my iPhone and iPad pretty successfully.  I find it to be a great tool for making first-then schedules on the fly.  It’s called First Then Visual Schedule and you can find it here for iTunes.  It is put out by Good Karma and in looking for the links, I discovered that they have a new app called FTVSHD that allows you to add video as well as choice boards and a timer.  They are each $9.99.  While that is a bit pricy in apps, I have used the regular First Then app quite frequently.  I haven’t yet tried the FTVSHD so if you have it please leave a note for me in the comments on how you like it. It appears that if you have an iPad you may want to use the new one; the original app just expands to be twice the size on the iPad as it is designed for the iPhone or the iPod Touch.
What I like about the first-then app is that sometimes I don’t have pictures handy with me for the right things, but I always have my phone.  The app allows me to snap a quick picture of the items and then put it in a first then schedule (or in a longer schedule).
The example below was for a student I was working with who really liked to read books but didn’t really like to work on money skills.  I didn’t have a picture to break down the tasks in his work session, so I quick pulled out my phone, snapped pictures of the material, and voila! A first-then schedule.  It really helped him to work through the money task with just a few reminders that he would then be able to look at the book.
I don’t typically use this feature, but you can also record words with the pictures so the person using it can hit the picture and it will tell him what is next.  Overall, the app is easy to use and can be used to make a variety of different types of schedules.
And then we have the low-tech option–you can just draw it out on paper, post-its or dry erase board and use writing if the student can read.  You just want to make sure that the student is able to clearly comprehend what is written.

And finally, I promised you a freebie! You can use the board with a variety of visuals and you may want to use a previous freebie of the communication visuals from this post as your “then.” Simply download the board, laminate it, and put velcro on it to hold the pictures.

Click here or on the picture below to download a copy of a first then board from my TPT store.  Not a member, there are a ton of free and paid products you are missing—you can sign up for free here.

First-then visuals are great methods for helping students with communication needs to understand the order of activities. Get a free first-then board and check out different ways to use them with your students.
This is part of an ongoing series of posts on different types and uses for visual schedules.  you can check out the visual schedule series here.
Until next time,
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14 thoughts on “Visual Schedule Series: First-Then Schedules (Freebie!!)”

  1. A really great app for schedules is Choice Works. It is a schedule app but has features to show and teach waiting & emotions. It also has a social narrative feature called companion books. Awesome app.

  2. Thank you for the information! Just wanted to let you know that the app for the visual first then schedule is now $14.99.

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