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How First/Then visuals help to reduce anxiety

Does your child find uncertainty overwhelming? Have you ever found that your child panics or becomes stressed with a change in routine? Or becomes suddenly angry when something unexpected occurs?

High anxiety, stress and feeling overwhelmed can leave a child feeling frustrated and like they can’t cope – these feelings will often then be expressed as anger. The Now/Next/Then (also known as First/Then) approach can help support your child with this!

First/Then visual communication approach cards autism boards

What is the Now/Next/Then (first-then) visual schedule?

Many children become anxious when there is a change in plans, or an unexpected event occurs. This is where the Now/Next/Then strategy helps, by providing a clear, visual roadmap which allows children to understand what is going to happen next. This understanding provides predictability to children and serves as a source of comfort, reducing the anxiety associated with uncertainty and change.

The simplicity of the Now/Next/Then strategy helps in breaking down complex tasks into manageable steps, fostering a sense of control and understanding for children which in turn results in them feeling less overwhelmed.

If the current activity is one which your child doesn't like, these boards also help by letting them know that a preferable activity is next.

How to use?

  • Print out now/next and now/next/then visual communication cards.

  • Cut them out.

First/then visual communication approach example autism
  • To use the cards, place the cards in order of where the child will be going or what they will be doing.

  • Point to the locations//activities/events and explain. e.g., "Now school, next playground," or "Now school, next playground, then home.".

  • The child can also use the cards to explain to you where they would like to go or what they would like to do.

  • It is a good idea to laminate the cards and then use velcro or blue tac to stick them in place; this way they can be reused.

For more details see the video below:

Why is using visual images important?

For young children processing language and written words can be challenging. Visuals are an alternative means of communication which they can easily understand. This not only reduces the frustration associated with communication challenges but also fosters a sense of autonomy and independence in the child. For autistic children, this is particularly important as many thrive through visual learning and visual supports are known to enhance understanding and retention of information among autistic children.



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