Communication Series – Now/Next Boards

Using Now/Next Boards


One of the most well known components of visual supports, the now and next board is often one of the first things that is recommended to help a child make sense of transitions and their day.

The now and next board is a key part of the TEACCH framework, but has also been adapted for use by parents and professionals throughout the world. So what exactly is it?

Essentially it is a visual way (be it through objects, symbols, photographs, or words) of giving a person forewarning and structure surrounding the transitions throughout their day. Some autistic people explain that sometimes it’s not the next activity that’s the problem, it’s the very act of moving onto it that causes anxiety.

Imagine not knowing that a task was going to end – worrying that you couldn’t go home because now you have to do numeracy forever. Or imagine being hungry but having no idea when lunch was. Imagine your mother or father dropping you off somewhere and leaving, and thinking that you are never going to see them again. These are just examples, and they are certainly not representative of all autistic people – but they can be the thoughts of some, and these and other similar thoughts and anxieties all lead to the difficulties that the diagnostic criteria terms rigid or repetitive thoughts and behaviours or resistance to change.

Not knowing what is going to happen from one minute to the next will often result in meltdowns – where the anxiety becomes so great that the individual becomes completely overwhelmed. This can lead to any number of responses – from dropping to the floor, behaving violently, refusing to move, sobbing uncontrollably, running away, or going almost catatonic as they go into a shutdown (almost like an internal meltdown). These can all seem like ‘naughty’ behaviour, and sadly people are often punished for this happening – even though all they are doing is reacting out of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.

All visual supports aim to help with this area (as well as supporting others) and whilst research is still quite limited even now, the findings are largely positive as long as they are implemented correctly and consistently.

So, the Now and Next board is quite literally a visual support that shows the individual what they are doing now, and what they are going to do next. It is often paired with other visual supports such as a list of activities, but works well for some people on it’s own. It serves as a concrete visual reference that can reduce anxiety and be looked at again and again for reassurance.

As I mentioned above, the visuals used on the now and next board can be objects of reference, photographs, symbols, or text, depending on the individual. Some people need to start with objects of reference and then move up, others use objects of reference their whole lives. Those who can read can often start on text or text combined with symbols, and others find the realism of photographs a better support. To determine the best visual method for your student is likely going to be a case of try it and see based on what you already know about them.

At the bottom of the page I have included an example of a Now/Next board as well as some examples of common visuals used throughout the day. Leave me a message below letting me know about your experiences with Now and Next boards.

Until next time.


Example Now and Next Board

Example now and next symbols

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981–2011 by Mayer-Johnson LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission.

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Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.


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