Supporting the development of speech, language and communication skills at Highbury School
The ability to communicate effectively is a key skill, and the better we are at it, the better our quality of life.
We begin communicating from the moment we are born, As a child develops, it is important we nurture their communication skills so they are capable of expressing themselves, clearly and confidently, in all aspects and areas of their life.
At Highbury School we understand the importance of teaching communication skilss in a structured and targeted way as many of our childern experiences difficulties in one or more areas of their communication. Communication is crucial to their safety, emotional well-being, independence and learning.
We are allocated a day a week of a speech and language therapists time and this is provied by the NHS. As so many children at Highbury require intervention for their communication we employ a specialist teaching assistant whose role involves liaising with the speech and language therapist and working across school with childern and staff to ensure programmes are followed and impact is measured.
Our speech and language therapist is Sarah Archer and our specialist Teaching Assistant is Vicky Altham. Both can be contacted via the school office.
As we began to develop our communication skills offer we began to understand that in terms of development there are crucially other areas a child can experience difficulties in which impacts on their ability to access the world around them. The following diagram illustrates the hierarchy of learning skills and enabled us to ensure we are developing and teaching the right skills in the right order.
This understanding led to us knowing that alongside the acquisition of communication skills we need to be addressing difficulties that many of our children have with sensory processing and sensory integration.
Highbury School supporting effective communication - A whole school approach
Vestibular: Coordinates the child's head, eyes, balance and equilibrium.
Tactile: How children learn through touch.
Proprioception: Child's awareness of body position.
Visual System: Information a child processes through their eyes.
Auditory: Information a child processes through their ears.
Learning: A strong development foundation built on each level creates learning within the child.
Picture Communication (PECS)
The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, allows children with autism who have little or no communication abilities, a means of communicating non-verbally. Children using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. By doing so, the child is able to initiate communication. The child with autism can use PECS to communicate a request, a thought, or anything that can reasonably be displayed or symbolized on a picture card. PECS works well in the home or in the classroom.
Intensive interaction tries to create a communication environment that is enjoyable and non-threatening to the individual on the autism spectrum, or with severe learning difficulties. In some respects the model of the approach is taken from the way we first start to communicate with naturally developing infants, where interactions are short, and involve noises, touch and eye contact. Interactions are brief but can grow over time.
Ultimately we are looking for the individual to:
We want the individual to be an active participant who is motivated to communicate and who will take the lead and feel a sense of control over the communicative situation. Through this approach we can make a connection with an individual, create an enjoyable exchange, reduce challenging behaviour, and develop communication skills. To begin with, sessions may be very short, but expanded over time and be varied in activity. Sessions should take place several times a day on a one-to-one basis.
PRIOR TO INITIATING INTENSIVE INTERACTION TECHNIQUES, WE MIGHT OBSERVE BEHAVIOURS THAT WILL OFTEN REVOLVE AROUND THE INDIVIDUAL COMMUNICATING WITH THEMSELVES THROUGH A VARIETY OF WAYS:
As a communication partner, we need to reflect back these movements and sounds, as that is the language they are using and are familiar with. A session will involve spending some time with the individual in a quiet relaxed environment and observing and following their lead. If they make a movement, respond by copying the movement, if they vocalize copy the vocalization. These sessions may be very brief to start with, but as the individual becomes more relaxed around the communication partner the sessions increase and the individual’s responses, and ultimately initiation, increase. This is more than just copying, it is more like developing a conversation, responding, turntaking and developing an interaction. The copying can be altered, varied, added to, or done in different forms as well, and this will help the process develop. The individual’s development of simple communication skills will increase their acceptance of other people being around them, which in turn may reduce their stress levels and challenging behaviour.
OTHER FACTORS TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT DURING DAILY INTERACTIONS WITH INDIVIDUALS WITH SEVERE COMMUNICATION DIFFICULTIES:
The Environment – to create fulfilling communication we also need to create a good communication environment. If the environment is noisy with lots of interruptions, cramped or uncomfortable, the individual is unlikely to relax and engage.
Sensory issues - be aware of the individuals sensory sensitivities such as touch, sound or vision. This is important not only when communicating, but when thinking about the communication environment.
There are 5 senses : Touch, Taste, Sight, Sound and Smell
The two other crucial and often hidden and impaired senses are movement and body awareness often referred to as vestibular and proprioception.
By movement we know that our body is in an upright position without even having to think about it, if we were sat down on a chair and you were to fall out of your chair you would recognise that you were no longer in the same position. It’s the same information that’s helpful to know when you are riding a bike i.e. when you are beginning to fall you’ve got time to do something about it.
The other sense of importance is body awareness, what we mean by this is simply that you know where your body is in space, you know how hard you are pressing, you know how hard you’re squeezing or pushing someone else. You know when you are invading someone else’s personal space.
When you put all this together you begin to realise that you need to recognise input from the world around you without thinking about it because only when you do that can you actually understand your body. That means you know how you can use your arms and legs together for example you can then pedal, steer and sit upright on a bike without having to think to hard about it.
If your body isn’t doing what you want you can’t tell it what you want to do e.g. Children at a young age learning to ride a bike, you can see all the effort going in but you can tell the difference in someone who’s got it, who sends the message to their legs and they do the right movement to pedal but the children who have absolutely no idea of how to put it all together because their effort is misguided because their processing of their body is misguided…’what’s my leg doing? I don’t know!’ if you don’t know what its doing you cant direct it to do what you want. The same applies with cutting and scissors, threading blocks, shape sorters the ones that just can’t seem to get it right, they know to slow down their movement to get the block into the right spot as opposed to violent movements and roughly where they want to get it but can’t control it.
All this sensory information is important to recognise how all of it flows into your brain effectively like tributaries into a lake, we then process all of that information, your brain and body then work together without us even thinking about it.
There are different ways of responding to sensory input we therefore have to work out which category our children fall into if there are sensory processing difficulties.
There are 4 different ways of responding to sensory input:
A sensory circuit is a series of exercises that a child works through in a specific structured order. It is intended to focus concentration to prepare the child for learning and support self regulation throughout the day.
The circuit may be specifically tailored to an individual student if it is felt they need more stimulation in a certain area.
Students spend around 1-2 mins in each area before moving on to the next area.
There are 3 types of exercise, which are laid out in clearly defined in zones.
Alerting Zone – wakes up the body, provides vestibular & proprioception stimulation within a controlled setting. This prepares the brain for learning.
Organising Zone – activities that require motor sensory processing, balance & timing. The student needs to organise their body, plan their approach & do more than one thing at a time in a sequential order. These skills may increase a students focus, attention span & performance within a classroom.
Calming Zone – these activities are very important as they provide input to ensure the student leaves the circuit & returns to the classroom calm, centered & ready for the day ahead.
What are the benefits of sensory circuits?
Many children can benefit from attending a Sensory Circuit, even for a short period of time. The aim is to focus concentration in readiness for the day’s learning. The circuit also encourages the development of the child’s sensory processing skills. Participation in a short sensory motor circuit is a great way both to energise and settle children into the school day. It is often possible to transfer techniques used within the sensory circuits to continue to support a child within the classroom. Frequent movement breaks can be built into the school day as necessary.
Behaviours that you see in a child that might suggest that they would benefit:
Speech & Language (SALT)
Teaching core skills for effective communication – successful communication occurs when there is understanding. Communication can be verbal or non verbal i.e. body language, sign language, facial expressions, eye contact
AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication)
For our pupils who have complex communication needs they may need to use alternative forms of communication. In partnership with parents and class staff we provide ongoing in-depth assessments and pupils will have the opportunity to trial different devices to ensure we find the right fit for them.
At Highbury we have a Communication Team consisting of an ICT Manager, Speech and Language Therapist and Lead Communication and Language.
Within school we use many different forms of communication such as signing, eye pointing, objects of reference, symbols, gestures, words and high tech AAC devices. Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) is any form of aided communication system and we have pupils who use high tech AAC with voice output.
The majority of our communication aids are provided by school, however, should a child need access to a high tech device such as voice output equipment or eye-gaze technology we would liaise with the Local Authority on the suitability of funding such equipment.
When considering a communication device the team not only look at the language level but also a child’s vision, how they would physically access the aid and where appropriate, mounting to their wheelchair.
With any form of communication strategy or device we offer full support to children, parents and staff. Our aim is for our pupils to be as independent as possible
Many of our pupils require special access technology in order for them to access not only the computer but their environment.
When a referral is made from the class teacher/parent/carer, the pupil receives an assessment from our ICT Manager alongside our Occupational Therapist if necessary and a report for class staff as how to best support their physical needs.
This report features in the child’s annual collaborative meeting and includes strategies and targets for progression.