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Clear signals

Be it a train or a tricycle, once you figure out what a pupil wants, give them plenty of means and opportunities to ask for it, says Diane Chadwick.For the early years pupils at Yewstock Special School we place great emphasis on play skills to develop communication, speech, literacy and numeracy.

First, we assess the pupil's means of communication - such as eye contact, vocalisation, raising a hand to activate a switch, exchanging pictures - and whether they are a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner.

Then we consider what motivates a child: perhaps the sound of a parent's voice, Thomas the Tank Engine, food or a tricycle. Through this understanding of the child we are then able to create a learning environment where a pupil has reasons to communicate.

We have adopted a nursery environment and maximise functional communication by encouraging the exchange of a picture for a toy. A child who wants to play trains would need to request the individual pieces - station, track, trains.

Once means and reason to communicate are established, we then need to provide as many opportunities as possible across the school day during which a child can experience success in communication and gain their desired object, whatever that may be. We aim for each pupil to have a minimum of 30 communication exchanges per day; for this to happen, the whole nursery environment is geared towards communication.

Displays are interactive so that pupils can comment on what they see. Pupils can make choices, ranging from what songs we sing to which computer programs they want to use. From a young age, pupils are making decisions

Diane Chadwick teaches at Yewstock School, a school for pupils aged 2-19 with a wide range of learning and physical difficulties in Sturminster Newton, Dorset. She was named Special Needs Teacher for the South of England at this year's Teaching Awards.


Book - Time to Talk by Alison Schroeder (LDA Learning, pound;22.99). A 40 session programme for reception and key stage 1, to develop language and social interaction skills such as eye contact, turn-taking, greetings, awareness of feelings, giving and following instructions, listening, attention and play skills.

Also, the Time to Talk Game (pound;29.99); with the help of Ginger Bear, children can take part in role-play activities, practise everyday actions and provide information about themselves.

Angie Rutter is a specialist teacher in communication and interaction.

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