5 Ways to Use a First-Then Visual Board in Your SPED Classroom

As hard working special education teachers, we want to make our teaching day as smooth and happy as possible. But when our students’ struggle with transitioning from one activity to the next, this can make our day tiring, stressful and deflating.


The good news is that there are SO many strategies that you can implement to help your teaching day run smoother and feel calmer.


We know that visual supports are an excellent tool for supporting students’ transitions during the day…. But where do we start?


Well, as the name suggests, let’s FIRSTLY start with a FIRST-THEN CHART:

What is a First-Then Chart?

A First-Then board is a visual prompt or support that shows your students two activities – the activity they are currently completing, or are about to complete (‘FIRST’), and the activity after this ‘THEN’.

What is the Purpose of a First-Then Board?

There are so many benefits to implementing a First-Then Chart for your students. Let’s take a closer look:

1. First-Then Boards Outline Your Students Expectations

First-Then Boards clearly and simply outline expectations for your students in a visual way – long after the verbal message is lost (which is very easy in a special education classroom!), your students can refer back to the First-Then Board in their own time and space.


Outlining expectations helps students to know what is required of them, which can increase the calm feelings and decrease their anxiety and overwhelm.

2. First-Then Boards Can Help Students Engage in Non-Preferred Activities

Children with Autism or developmental delays can often have difficulty engaging and participating in activities that have low interest to them – often referred to as ‘non-preferred tasks’. But in a special education classroom, there will be times when all students will need to participate in activities that are not ‘their favourite’! A First-Then Board is a wonderful visual tool to introduce a non-preferred activity as you can pair it with a preferred activity for motivation.

3. First-Then Boards Can Increase Motivation

This leads us to the third benefit! First-Then Boards clearly show two activities that will be completed. If your student is really keen to get to that second activity, they can see that they need to complete the first activity.

4. First-Then Boards Teach The Concepts of ‘First’ and ‘Then’

Teachers often ask me ‘how can I teach my students the concept of time? For students with Autism or language delays, the concept of ‘time’ can be a very difficult idea to understand. Saying ‘5 more minutes, then lunch’ may be very confusing and have little meaning for these students.


Using a First-Then Board can be a great way to introduce the concept of ‘time’ by saying ‘First lego, then lunch’.

5. First-Then Boards Can be Used in ALL Social Situations!

We know that for visual supports to be effective, using them in different settings (e.g. preschool, home, daycare, the park, etc) is a must. And a First-Then Board is one visual support that you will use ALL day. Here are just a few examples:

  1. First CAR, then PRESCHOOL
  2. First TOILET, then WASH HANDS
  3. First LUNCH, then BRUSH TEETH
  4. First STORY, then IPAD
  5. First SOCKS, then SHOES

Need a Free First-Then Board to Use Today?

You give so much of yourself as a special education teacher, planning lessons and gathering resources that your students will hopefully love. Help your teaching day run smoother and give a First-Then Board a try.

Don’t have time to create one? No worries – I have you covered! Grab your free, print and go First-Then Board resource below:

First Then Board

Let me know how you go…. and keep making a difference!


3 Tips To Help Your Child Pack Their Own School Bag

Packing your child’s school bag is one of those busy morning routines that we all dread as dedicated parents. With school lunches to prepare, library bags to find and hats to find (always under the bed!), packing your child’s school bag is one of those extra school routine jobs that is just calmer and simpler if we ‘just do it ourselves’.

The Benefits of Children Packing Their Own School Bag

As hectic as our school mornings are getting ready for school, teaching our children to take responsibility for packing their own school bag or backpack is important for so many reasons, including:

  • Develops independence
  • Develops life skills
  • Develops organisation skills
  • Develops sequencing skills (how to put things in the correct order)
  • Develops ownership skills
  • Develops school-specific vocabulary

So if you are reading this wondering ‘how on Earth do I teach my child to pack their own school bag? –  I hear you! As a former school teacher AND current school mum, I’ve been on both sides of the fence! There is nothing more frustrating as a teacher than when children forget to bring what they need… and there is nothing more frustrating as a mum than trying to get my child to do it!

My 3 Top Tips to Teach Your Child to Pack Their Own School Bag:

1. Designate a School Bag Station

Set your child up for success through storing ALL your child’s school in one central spot – not just school bags but hats, shoes, library bags, school information, homework folders, the lot! For us, it’s the cupboard at the top of the stairs as you walk in. Keeping everything in a central spot sets your child up for success as when they sit down to pack their school bag, everything is within arm’s reach ready to pack, rather than starting a house search to locate that missing library book….which then leads to distractions!

2. Encourage your Child to Pack Their Bag the Night Before

Say goodbye to hectic school mornings! Do as much packing as you can the night before. You can then sleep soundly knowing that all you have left for the morning is to pop those pre-pared lunches in and you’re good to go! Which leaves you time for that extra coffee before school drop off!

3. Use Visual Supports:

As parents, we verbally remind our children to do a LOT of things. And let’s face it, that can get tiring, repetitive and stressful! Replace your verbal reminders with visual supports which will prompt your child to pack exactly what they need without you needing to say a word!

Visual supports are a wonderful tool for building independence and life skills at any age. They can help to reduce the cognitive load that your child has to remember so instead of forgetting what they need to pack, it’s there ready for them to follow!

Try my new ‘Packing the School Bag’ Visual Supports to set you up for success!

This resource includes:

  1. 40 Individual Visual Cue Cards:

With both colour and black/white options included, these are perfect to attach to your child’s school bag for an instant prompt.

2. ‘Weekly Schedule’ chart template:

This handy chart instantly shows your child daily differences throughout the school week and helps them to independently plan what is needed to pack in their school bag, e.g. homework on Fridays; library books on Tuesdays.

3. Desk Sequencing Strip

Perfect for developing independent skills at school, this template shows your child or students the steps involved for packing their school bag.

4. Memory Cards of ALL Visuals

Develop school vocabulary in FUN ways with these school-themed visuals – Memory, Go Fish and Snap are our favourites!

School mornings are here to stay – and while we can’t completely eliminate the chaos, there are definitely ways that we can make the process as stress-free as possible.

What’s your top tip for encouraging your child to pack their own school bag? Share it with us below!

Remember to grab your Packing the School Bag Visuals Pack here!


4 Tips To Help Your Child Play With Their Toys

One of the biggest questions families ask me as a paediatric speech pathologist is ‘why won’t my child play with their toys?’. This is a huge topic and one that has many answers and discussion points. So let’s grab a cuppa, settle in and look at some of the reasons why your child may be having difficulty learning to play – and most importantly, let’s look at solutions for helping your child learn to play with their toys! Let’s dive in:

Why is Play Time So Important?

We often hear that ‘play is the work of childhood’. Far more than just fun and recreation, developing play skills helps your child to explore their environment, foster their interests and build their cognitive, motor, speech, language and social skills (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2007). When your child plays, they are learning to problem solve, analyse the information available to them and build attention skills. As parents, we may expect that our children’s play skills will develop naturally without input from us but the reality is that often, we notice some or all of the following difficulties when our child plays:

Does any of the following sound familiar?

* You spend hours on the internet researching ‘what toys will help my child’ and constantly buy new toys to spark your child’s interest but haven’t been successful?
* Your child/student will look at a toy for a few moments but will quickly lose interest and move onto something else?
* Your child’s play space looks like a hideous bomb site at the end of the day?
* Your child has limited expressive vocabulary and you don’t know how to add words their world?
* You plan exciting, interesting and engaging sessions for your students or clients but find they only remain on the activity for a couple of minutes?

If any of the above sounds familiar, then you are not alone. The reality is that there are several reasons why kiddies may have difficulty developing their play skills and therefore, difficulty playing with toys.

Why Can’t My Child Play With Toys?

  • developmental and cognitive delays, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Developmental Hyperactivity Disorder or Developmental Learning Disorder
  • speech and language delays, including difficulties developing new vocabulary and difficulties with attention skills
  • social skills difficulties, including turn taking skills, joining in play and waiting skills
  • physical disabilities including mobility, fine motor skills and strength required to use the toys
  • sensory preferences: If your child is uncomfortable touching particular objects, they may have difficulty using and manipulating toys during play time.
  • attention difficulties – in order to develop play skills, children need to attend to and remain on the play activity for an extended period of time
  • other issues

So How Can I Help My Child Play With Toys?

The good news is that there are so many ways that you can help your child or student learn to play with their toys. Here are my top 4 tips:

  1. Model how to play with the toys: Joining in and playing with, or alongside your child is SO valuable! By modelling different ways to play with toys, you are enriching your child’s play experience through showing your child different options for how to play with their toys. This increases the chance that your child will watch, imitate you or even try your ideas themselves.
  2. Repeat, repeat, repeat!: Did you know that most people need to be shown new information on average of 21 times before they commit it to their memory? With this in mind, be sure to repeat your modelling over and over (and over!) again with your child.
  3. Keep sensory preferences in mind – watch your child during play and take note of which toys they seem to enjoy touching and which toys they reject.
  4. Use pictures and visuals: As a speech pathologist, I work with so many children that need help with play skills. What really helped me was creating and implementing these visual supports. These are specific pictures that you can use while you are playing with your child to give them ideas for playing with their toys. The picture below give you a sneak peak of what’s included in the ‘How To Play With Toys’ Visuals Pack’.
Giving your child options for how to play with their toys can help develop their play skills
Step-by-step pictures can show your child to make the most of play time
Add direction and structure to play time with these visuals to enrich your child’s play time

When we are struggling to work out why our child is having difficulty during play time, it is good to know that there are strategies available to help your child develop their play skills while still having fun! After all, that’s what play time is all about! And remember to reach out and chat to a speech pathologist if you continue to notice that your child is having difficulty developing their play skills.

What’s your child’s favourite playtime toys? Share below!


How To Prepare Your Child For Doctors Visits

As a mother of two young children, believe me I understand how challenging doctors visits can be for children. The doctors wear different uniforms and carry strange equipment, there care unfamiliar people in the waiting room and with current hygiene practices, people may be wearing masks which can be confronting for children. This combination can cause your child to feel anxious, worried and even scared at the thought of visiting the doctors.

Helping your child to feel at ease at the doctors is so important. Going to the doctors is something that is required all throughout our whole life – from treating viruses and illnesses, for routine check ups as well as vaccinations, the more comfortable we can help our children become with the process, the easier it will be.

So how can we help our child to prepare for their doctors visit? Read on to learn my tried and tested top tips!

  1. Talk About the Visit with Your Child:

Let your child know a few days in advance that they will be visiting the doctors. This gives your child time to prepare themselves in their own space and time. Mark the doctors visit on the calendar and count down the days each day. Talk about who will go with your child, who they will see and what you will do after the visit (my kids always make me take them for icecream!)

2. Go Prepared To The Visit:

In our household, we are all morning people. In fact, when our kids were toddlers, our mantra was ‘if it doesn’t happen in the morning, it just doesn’t happen!’. Keep this theme in mind when you book your appointment. If possible, schedule the visit for your child’s optimum time of day – avoid nap times, meal times and peak traffic times like school pick up time.

The other way to be prepared is to pack a bag that will help your child feel comfortable whilst in the waiting room. Collect your child’s favourite toy or activity, a book to read together, a small snack and a cool drink. Having their familiar items close by will further help your child to feel at ease.

3. Role Play Your Doctors Visit

Role play (or ‘Pretend Play’) is a wonderful way to introduce your child to the procedure of the going to the doctors. You can use a pretend doctors kit or repurpose some household items and set up a ‘doctors surgery’ in your loungeroom. Have your child choose their stuffed animals that need check-ups. Talk about the equipment that you are using and why (e.g. ‘we can use a torch to look in your mouth’). Be sure to have your child take turns at being both the doctor and the patient.

4. Read a Social Script with Your Child

Social Scripts (sometimes known as social narratives) are simple stories that can help your child learn new social skills for a particular activity or situation. The stories use simple, positive language and usually have pictures or photos to go with it. Social Scripts have wonderful evidence behind them as being an effective way to teach children new skills and reduce anxiety and worry in new situations.

A social script for going to the doctors can help your child to:

  • Understand the steps involved in going to the doctors in their own time and space.
  • Refer to the event whenever they need to, helping reduce anxiety around the unknowns of the event
  • Identify aspects that will help them to feel comfortable, e.g. identifying what comfort toy they will bring and identifying who will take them.

Further to that, a social script that includes your child’s OWN DETAILS can be an even MORE effective way to teach these new skills. Through personalising the story through drawing the toy they will take, and drawing the person that will go with them, this can help your child attach more meaning to the social script and further internalise the messages.

The good news is that you don’t have to create your own editable social script! You can explore this one that I have created HERE.

Going to the doctors can be confronting and anxiety-provoking for children but through putting some strategies in place, we can help our child to feel safe, secure and comfortable during these situations.

How to Talk to Your Child’s Teacher About their Bowel & Bladder Problem

Wondering how to approach your child’s teacher to discuss your child’s bowel and bladder challenges? This blog provides a plan!

School. It is meant to be a word that sparks excitement, the anticipation of a rite of passage and the promise of a whole new world to explore. But for parents with kids with bowel and bladder challenges, including constipation, encopresis and stool withholding, the word ‘school’ can evoke a whole different set of emotions – worry, anxiety, fear and downright dread…. and then grief that we are feeling this way. For children heading back to school or for those precious little ones embarking on their first year of ‘big school’, preschool or their first Daycare experience, bowel and bladder issues add a whole new layer of emotion.

I Can Manage Stool Withholding at Home – But School is a Whole New World

As parents of kids with bowel and bladder issues, we are dedicated to supporting our children as best we can. In the home environment, without even realising it, managing bowel and bladder issues over time can become, to an extent, an automatic, unspoken routine. Your child knows where their new clothes are, where the bathroom is, how to access you with a minimum of fuss if they need assistance and their favourite cuddly toy is (usually!) handy when they are feeling worried or lethargic. But what happens when your child now attends school for the majority of the working week without you there to provide this comfort and reassurance?

Teachers Have A LOT To Remember!

Teachers brains are amazing. As a former teacher myself, I can say honestly that teachers often spend more time thinking about the kiddies in their class than they do about their own children! They welcome, nurture and teach up to 30 little people at once, all day, 5 days a week. They remember who has lost a tooth, who visited their grandparents on the weekend and who needed to review their sight words for extra practice. Their minds are constantly ticking over thinking about how to extend children, how to cater for struggling children, how to incorporate children’s interests in lessons, how to implement behaviour management strategies and how to encourage and nurture friendship groups just to name a few. The bottom line? Teachers brains are full and as we know, managing bowel and bladder issues in your individual child is not a ‘one size fits all’. They are extremely specific and not something that teachers should be expected to just ‘remember’. Helping teachers to help our child is essential to setting up the year for success.

Why Your Child’s Teacher Needs To be Informed of Your Child’s Bowel/Bladder Issues

Constipation, Encopresis and other bowel/bladder challenges are real medical issues. They are also very unpredictable – some days are ‘up’, some days are ‘down’ and establishing patterns can be difficult (and extremely frustrating!) And let’s face it, bowel and bladder challenges can be difficult to explain to others who are not experiencing the same thing. As parents, we may be forgiven for feeling that initial urge to keep these issues to ourselves, to ‘just get through the school day’ and not mention our children’s bowel and bladder challenges to staff.

But it is important to remember that bowel and bladder issues are real medical issues, just as real as asthma, anaphylaxis, diabetes or any other issue that we would raise immediately with the school. Your child’s teacher is there to help you and your child but to do that, they need the correct information, a detailed plan in place and clear communication. As dedicated parents, it is our job to provide teachers with the information they need and work together to come up with a plan.

Tips for Talking with Your Child’s Teacher:

  1. Provide Useful Information: ERIC.org.uk has a wealth of helpful resources that you can take along to help your teacher understand your child’s condition better and how to help. CLICK HERE for further information.
  2. Explain Your Child’s Specific Behaviours: Be clear about what the condition looks like in your own child. In the school environment, your child may be too overwhelmed or embarrassed to approach their teacher if they need assistance. You can help by alerting your child’s teacher to the telltale signs that they might need assistance or a bathroom break. Does your child fidget? Sit on their knees? Do they require a bathroom visit at certain times?
  3. Secret Signals: Your child may be too embarrassed to communicate with their teacher that they need assistance or a bathroom visit. Work together with your child and the teacher to come up with a ‘secret signal’ that your child can use. It may be holding up a special card or using a secret code word when they need assistance or need a bathroom pitt stop.
  4. Create a Management Plan together – Documentation is extremely important in the school environment. A formalised management plan can be kept in a central place and easily accessed for not only the classroom teacher but also other professionals that may work with your child (substitute teachers, sports teachers, teacher’s aides). This helps ensure that all those who work with your child have the relevant, up to date information so that they can care for your child appropriately at school. When compiling a management plan, ensure that the following information is included:
  5. Your child’s identification details, including an up to date photo
  6. An emphasis on your child’s strengths and interests
  7. A clear explanation of your child’s condition
  8. The steps in the management plan
  9. Any medication that is required
  10. Protocols for extra curricular activities, such as swimming, sports carnivals, excursions and school camps
  11. An outline of any assistance required

ERIC.org.uk have a free Health Care Plan template which you can print and personalise to help you and your child prepare for school. CLICK HERE to access the Health Care Plan.

Embarking on school for the first time or returning to school for a new year brings many emotions for parents and children with bowel and bladder challenges. Through working closely with your child’s teacher, you can help ensure that school is the exciting, adventurous place that we hope for.


Melissa Yapp is a speech pathologist and special education teacher. When she is not working or spending time with her husband and two spirited children, she can be found creating resources for professionals and families. For more resources, articles and giveaways, follow Melissa on Instagram @melissayappwriter