How can parents and schools make communication and understanding easier for children with SEND?

Communication – it’s not all about talking! EdPlace looks at resources and aids to support verbal communication in education.

For most of us, talking is the best way to tell people what we need or how we feel. Speech, language and communication difficulties often co-occur with diagnosis' such as Autism, anxiety and other language disorders. Frustrations are sometimes presented as challenging behaviours due to the inability to express feelings efficiently.
Processing verbal information can be a challenge for anyone with language difficulties, so it is important to use visual cues to support spoken words. So, how can we make communication easier?

In this article, I look at the many ways that verbal communication can be supported at home and in school to encourage a child’s independence and to give them a better sense of self-control.

Visual support – (aids to look at to help understanding and communication)

Alongside speech, using visual aids to communicate is one of the easiest and most common ways that schools and parents can reinforce verbal communication with their children. Everyday items used as visual cues can help send messages or feelings to others eg: photos, symbols, coloured cards, clothing, gestures or visual images on a tablet computer or Smartphone. If shown at the same time as verbal information is being given, a message can be reinforced. 

Visual prompts can help send single messages; showing a purple card to the teacher when ‘time out’ is needed, for instance, or giving a ‘thumbs up’ for feedback on an enjoyable activity, sends their message clearly and promptly.

Combining these visual cues with portable visual timetables at home and in the classroom will empower your child and show them what’s happening now, next and later.  These cues make sense of their day, reduce anxiety levels and they allow them to express their opinions too. 

Removing their own completed activities from the timetable gives them a better understanding of routine and when things will or have happened. 

Flashcards or pictures can offer your child a choice, reinforcing verbal communication. Maybe they could choose an activity card for the ‘morning’ timetable and put it where they would like to have this in their morning session or get them to choose between two snacks?  This promotes independence and self-confidence. 

Personalising timetables or cards with favourite characters persuades children to regularly use these prompts and making them hard-wearing and portable (on a key-ring even!) will ensure that they can be used over and over wherever they are.  

Auditory support – (aids to listen to for help with understanding and communication)

Technology to support verbal communication is rapidly evolving nowadays through the use of tablets, MP3 players, computers and Smartphones.

Using devices to listen to instructions and information can often reassure children with SEND as they know that they can listen to details again if they need to.

Using headphones blocks out any background noise and helps them to focus on the information on a device that they are listening to.

Listening to songs and short stories, for example, may help them learn multiplication tables or retell the story that they’ve listened to using sequencing cards. 

Enabling them to record their answers and opinions away from an ‘audience’ is a less stressful way of communicating their views in class.

EdPlace's English, maths and science activities are perfect for auditory support - the accessibility toolbar can be customised to read aloud all worksheets and questions. Test it for free on our English, maths and science worksheets.

Written support – (writing or drawing resources to help students understand and communicate)

Some children with speech and language difficulties prefer to communicate using technology rather than face to face interaction, and so word processing or touch screens help here. 

Technology is used regularly in schools now and your child’s teacher may allow them to work on their class/homework using this instead of always recording by hand. 

Could they perhaps print their work or email it to their teacher? This may not always be possible – worth asking though! 

These days, there’s a vast range of adapted keyboards, mice and keyboard overlays making word processing accessible.

Communication Apps are always evolving and are worth checking on regularly to see what’s out there to help our children communicate. See the EdPlace SEND hub for help on SPLD friendly fonts.

Kinesthetic support – (physical resources to help understanding and communication)

Children who move a lot or stand up when working often prefer a kinesthetic way of learning. The physical world around them improves their learning and moving helps them to process information and communicate. 

‘Fidgeting’ may actually help them and you may find that squeezing a stress ball or allowing them to doodle with a pencil whilst they’re listening, greatly improves their general focus and concentration. Try it and see! 

Many teachers now carefully consider their teaching style and plan activities for active learners.  After all, around 40% of us are kinesthetic learners so it makes complete sense to use these methods to encourage and engage nearly half the class!

Activities like singing and those which provide a physical sensation, movement and social opportunities, usually work best.  Cooking, physical games, art, craft and sculpting tend to give the necessary physical stimulation that develops learning and communication. 

Drama or playing an instrument may also help as well as working on fine motor skills, self-esteem, self-expression, emotional expression and memory. 

Finding the best way to support verbal communication for pupils with SEND will empower them.  Using aids consistently and regularly both at home and in school will improve communication, self-esteem and confidence.  Remember though, what works for one child may not work for another so try different aids to find out which ones your child prefers. Look at where your child’s challenges are to find out how they learn and communicate best. 

Don’t forget to regularly review the resources as your child grows so you can appropriately personalise your cues, stories, Apps etc. This will encourage your child to continue to use these aids for as long as they need them.   

How can EdPlace help SEND learners?

Set personally motivating and individually encouraging rewards for your child using EdPlace. Have fun learning new topics with our activities and worksheets that last between 10 - 20 minutes to ensure maximum engagement and attention! Use our varied blog posts as a stimulus or talking point, to encourage thoughts around social skills and differences or abilities. Our accessibility toolbar creates a bespoke learning environment that is personal to your preferred learning style. Choose an alternative colour palette or use a reading option to reduce visual stress, or use the read-aloud feature to recite the text to you. There are so many additional features to remove barriers to learning, therefore ensuring that your child has access to all the curriculum aligned content.

Test our worksheets for free:

English Maths Science