‘First, Then’ Schedules in a Therapeutic Preschool Program

For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental delays who are enrolled in a therapeutic preschool program, ‘First, Then’ schedules can be highly effective tools. If you are a parent, you may be familiar with the concept of a therapeutic preschool program. While a typical preschool program is structured for children who meet the typical developmental milestones, this structure is not beneficial for all children. For example, if a child has autism, they may not receive the support that they need in a typical preschool program.

In a therapeutic preschool program, that child will receive additional support before starting kindergarten. Some of the areas of focus in this type of program might include speech and language, applied behavior analysis (ABA), feeding therapy, play skills, social skills, cognitive skills, and more. A therapeutic preschool program may also offer speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, or ABA therapy services (provided by certified professionals) throughout the day.

What is a ‘First, Then’ schedule?
A ‘First, Then’ schedule can be extremely helpful for children with autism. This type of schedule provides a visual representation for different tasks. Here is an example:


For children with autism, it can be challenging to follow a schedule and learn sequencing skills. A ‘First, Then’ schedule can be an actual board with velcro attachments for teachers to attach cards with different activities. As we live in the digital age, there are also many apps available for iPads and tablets for ‘First, Then’ visual schedules. Every child is a unique learner with unique needs, so a physical ‘First, Then’ board might work better for one child, while another child prefers using an iPad for their visual schedules.

Why are visual supports helpful?
Both of these skills are highly important in early childhood development, so a teacher at a therapeutic preschool may use this tool with young students who experience challenges following directions during class. This may be especially helpful for children who struggle with following verbal cues, as ‘First, Then’ schedules provide a concrete visual representation of tasks. Learning these positive skills at an early age is important, which is why a ‘First, Then’ schedule may be used in a therapeutic preschool program.

Children with autism may also find transitions between different activities stressful. Using a ‘First, Then’ schedule can help children to anticipate the order of tasks throughout the day in a therapeutic preschool program can help reduce this anxiety around transitions.

A ‘First, Then’ board can also be used in both the school and home environment, which provides additional consistency. Teachers can share strategies with parents (and vice versa), in order to ensure that children provide the most comprehensive care possible to meet their unique abilities and needs.

Do you think your child could benefit from First Then schedules or additional support from a therapeutic preschool program in Chicago?
Contact CST Academy at 773-620-7800 or by clicking on the purple button below to learn more about our program where children make incredible developmental strides!