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Principals Diary

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January 2010
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  1. Volume 3 Month 1 Day 7- Communication and Interaction Difficulties


    Pupils having Communication and Interaction Difficulties

    Pupils with communication and interaction difficulties face a multiple barriers to learning. One of the bitter and most frustrating experiences of human beings is the inability to express their needs. This happens with a child who is having a difficulty in communication and interaction. Similarly, trying and failing to understand what someone else is struggling to convey can be extremely disheartening. We can experience this difficulty and uneasiness of not being able to express ourselves or unable to understand what other person wants to convey if we have played a game of dumb-charade or when we fail to communicate with a person of different language. Similarly, a child with communication and interaction problem face the difficulty in expressing his/her needs and a teacher or parents face the problem of not being able to understand the child’s need. In this way, communication fails and child comes across different learning barriers that affect his/her participation in classroom/ school. Teachers often face problem on how to understand a child and remove the barriers before participation and learning.

    Generally, all educational settings are heavily dependent upon communication and interaction may be verbal or non-verbal. For the children who have a difficulty in this area, school becomes a frightening, frustrating, and confusing place (Linda, 2007).

    Among children who, according to the Code (DfES, 2001a, Chapter 7, section 55), will have communication and interaction difficulties are those with:

    ·        Speech and language difficulties, impairments and disorders

    ·        Specific learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia and dyspraxia)

    ·        Hearing impairment

    ·        Autistic spectrum disorder

    ·        Sensory or physical impairment leading to communication and interaction difficulties

    These disorders, difficulties and impairments are in part defined to include communications and interaction difficulties. For example, autistic spectrum disorder (or at least autism) is defined as an impairment of communication and interaction (and other impairments). This is perhaps what the Code means when it indicates that ‘there are also specific needs that usually relate to particular types of impairment’ (Ibid., Chapter 7, section 52).

    Among the educational requirements of pupils with communication and interaction difficulties suggested by the Code, some are self-evident. Few would express astonishment in discovering that a pupil with communication and interaction difficulties might require ‘help in acquiring, comprehending and using language’ or help in using ‘different means of communication confidently and competently for a range of purposes’ (Ibid., Chapter 7, section 56). Other suggestions need include that the pupil may need help in:

    ·        Articulation;

    ·        Acquiring literacy skills;

    ·        Using augmentative and alternative means of communication;

    ·        Organizing and coordinating oral  and written language

    Also support may be needed, for example, to ‘compensate for the impact of communication difficultly on learning English as an additional language’ (Ibid., Chapter 7, section 56).

    Child who is having delayed language problem, speech problem and the one who is having autistic spectrum disorder are main sufferers as it becomes quite difficult for these children to express their needs. Teachers find it most difficult to address the particular needs of these children. Consequently, these children find themselves without friends, feel isolated and become easy target for bullies.

    There are a number of strategies that a teacher should use for removing the learning barriers for a child with communication and interaction difficulty. Teacher should understand the special educational needs of these children. The educational approaches that should be used for the children having communication and interaction difficulty are as following:

    Environment: Use visual prompts, gestures and/or a signing system to reinforce spoken and written language. Make a visual timetable. Eliminate extraneous noise as far as possible. Remember the importance of calming colours and avoid overloading the senses with too much vivid display material.

    Routine: This is vital to alleviate confusion and give children a sense of security. When routines have to be broken, ensure that children are prepared whenever possible, and that someone talks them through what is going to happen. Familiarize them, in advance, with new teachers and settings – perhaps providing them with photographs, and making visits to their new classroom. Expectations should be consistent, as far as possible, throughout the school.

    Verbal instructions: Keep them short and precise. Ensure that children know you are addressing them, not someone else. Give one instruction at a time. Speak clearly, at a natural pace and make sure that the child can see your face. Use gesture/signing to back up verbal language. Avoid figurative language; idioms such as ‘pull your socks up’ may be taken literally – these will need to be taught explicitly. Tell a child what to do rather than what not to do.

    Respect: Do not force children and young people to work in pairs or groups if they are clearly uncomfortable in that situation. Respect differences and be aware of the social networks of the classroom. Activities such as ‘circle of friends’ and the use of ‘social stories’ can be useful.

    Praise: Reinforce all attempts to communicate. Avoid correcting a child’s spoken language, but provide a good model and opportunities to practice. Use a child’s specific interests to expand use of language and social skills.

    Multi-sensory: Make use of visual and kinesthetic strategies for teaching and learning. However, remember that although the child with language delay may love the sand and water, the one with autism may hate the feel of it!

    Non-curricular activities: Problems often arise at play/break time, lunchtime, at the bus stop or any other unstructured time of the day. A child should also be provided some training for developing social skills that will help pupils to cope with new situations.

    (Linda, 2007)

    A teacher should learn on how to deal with different requirements of children who may have been defined as having communication and interaction problem. Remember, there is no well defined special educational needs for children with communication and interaction but there falls a spectrum of needs which means that what can be a need for one child having communication and interaction may not be the need of another child with communication and interaction difficulty. Some may have problem in language, some may have organizing and interpreting problem while some may have difficulty in interaction. 


    Specific educational approaches for different categories of Communication and Interaction difficulty

    Where the child has difficulty in speaking

    • Allow extra time for the child to respond; do not hurry him to give an answer.
    • Consider whether she might benefit from using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) or (for a child with significant difficulties) a voice output communication aid (VOCA).
    • Learning a signing system such as Sign Language may be useful (teachers and peers will also need to learn).
    • Teach new vocabulary (including subject-specific words). Have a ‘word of the day/week’ for the whole class.
    • Practice sentence building and sequencing.
    • Introduce ‘talking partners’ and use speaking frames.

    Where the child has difficulty in planning, organizing ideas and formulating language

    • A friend or teaching assistant can help the pupil to organize his ideas.
    • Use a planning/writing/recording frame to help with structure (particularly useful for practical investigations).
    • Sequencing activities can be supported by using an overlay keyboard (e.g. Intellitools Activity Exchange).
    • Idea/concept mapping can be useful. 
    • Use reading sessions to explore meaning, cause and effect.
    • Teach pupils how to use coloured pens to highlight different sorts of information for note-making, revision etc.

    Where the child has difficulty with interaction

    • Always use the child’s name before giving an instruction: he may not understand that you mean him if you say, ‘Red table go and get your coats now’.
    • At story time, allow a child with ASD to sit on a cushion or inside a plastic hoop, to safeguard his personal space. Older pupils may need to sit at the end of a row.
    • Use visual backup wherever possible: visual timetables/instructions, reminder strips, concrete apparatus; picture symbols to support speech such as clip arts
    • Make computers available. They allow pupils to work without distraction, and are not demanding in emotional terms, as people often are. They also offer a means by which teachers and other learners can share a focus with autistic pupils.
    • Repeat an instruction if appropriate, but remember that re-wording may help the child with a language delay, but confuse a child with autism.
    • Phrase questions carefully. Closed questions require a simple answer that may be right or wrong, or may indicate a preference (‘Do you want orange squash or milk?’); they provide a safer situation for children with autism than open questions, (‘what do you like to drink?’) 
    • Ask the child to explain to someone else what he or she has to do, to check his or her understanding.
    • Teach a routine phrase that the child can use when he does not understand (make sure all adults know about it!) or use a card for the child to hold up when help is needed.
    • Teach metaphors, jokes and puns when appropriate.
    • Teach the meaning behind facial expressions.
    • Create an area (workstation) where the child with interaction difficulties can choose to work; they will need to be taught how and when to use such areas.


    Department for Education and Skills (2001a) Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, London: DfES.

    Linda, E. (2007) Identifying Communication and Interaction Difficulties. SENCO Week.


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