GSO Test

Strategies to support the curriculum

The curriculum is supported by the following strategies. These are used for specific pupils to help enhance their learning / communication.


The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) was developed over 20 years ago. It allows children and adults with autism and other communication difficulties to initiate communication.

PECS begins with teaching students to exchange a picture of a desired item with a teacher, who immediately honours the request. For example, if they want a drink, they will give a picture of 'drink' to an adult who directly hands them a drink. Verbal prompts are not used, thus encouraging spontaneity and avoiding prompt dependency. The system goes on to teach discrimination of symbols and how to construct simple "sentences." Ideas for teaching commenting and other language structures such as asking and answering questions are also incorporated.

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Founded in the early 1970s by the late Eric Schopler, Ph.D., TEACCH developed the concept of the "Culture of Autism" as a way of thinking about the characteristic patterns of thinking and behavior seen in individuals with this diagnosis. 

The "Culture of Autism" involves:
  • Relative strength in and preference for processing visual information (compared to difficulties with auditory processing, particularly of language).
  • Frequent attention to details but difficulty understanding the meaning of how those details fit together.
  • Difficulty combining ideas.
  • Difficulty with organizing ideas, materials, and activities.
  • Difficulties with attention. (Some individuals are very distractible, others have difficulty shifting attention when it's time to make transitions.)
  • Communication problems, which vary by developmental level but always include impairments in the social use of language (called "pragmatics").
  • Difficulty with concepts of time, including moving too quickly or too slowly and having problems recognizing the beginning, middle, or end of an activity.
  • Tendency to become attached to routines, with the result that activities may be difficult to generalize from the original learning situation and disruptions in routines can be upsetting, confusing, or uncomfortable.
  • Very strong interests and impulses to engage in favoured activities, with difficulties disengaging once engaged.
  • Marked sensory preferences and dislikes.

The long-term goals of the TEACCH approach are both skill development and fulfillment of fundamental human needs such as dignity, engagement in productive and personally meaningful activities, and feelings of security, self-efficacy, and self-confidence.  To accomplish these goals, TEACCH developed the intervention approach called "Structured Teaching."  

The principles of Structured Teaching include:
  • Understanding the culture of autism.
  • Developing an individualized person- and family-centered plan for each client or student, rather than using a standard curriculum.
  • Structuring the physical environment.
  • Using visual supports to make the sequence of daily activities predictable and understandable .
  • Using visual supports to make individual tasks understandable.

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Can you imagine what it would be like if you couldn't understand speech?

How would you cope? It's a situation which is similar to the one you might experience if you were in a foreign country and couldn't speak or understand the language.

What would you do? You would probably begin to gesture to explain what you wanted, and hope that others would understand your gestures and would gesture back. You might also start to draw pictures and diagrams to help get your messages across.

Makaton combines all these elements in a highly successful teaching approach.

How was Makaton developed?

Firstly a research project identified the words that we all use most frequently and need in everyday conversation. Then signs from British Sign Language, used by the deaf community in this country, were matched to these words, so that as you speak you sign and speak at the same time. Signs are often pictorial and convey the meaning more easily than words, which are more abstract.

How is Makaton used?

Makaton users are first encouraged to communicate using signs, then gradually, as a link is made between the word and the sign, the signs are dropped and speech takes over.

This might surprise you, as you would perhaps think that signing would prevent speech developing. But research suggests very strongly that this is not the case. In fact the opposite occurs, as signing seems to positively encourage speech development. Many hundreds of thousands of children and adults have been helped significantly in this manner.

Who uses Makaton?

Makaton is an internationally recognised communication programme, used in more than 40 countries worldwide.

Most Makaton users are children and adults who need it as their main means of communication. But everyone else who shares their lives will also use Makaton. These include the families, carers, friends and professionals such as teachers, speech and language therapists, social workers, playgroup staff, college lecturers, instructors, nurses, and psychiatrists. However, it doesn't stop there. Makaton is rapidly spreading into the wider community, with requests for training to use signs and symbols from supermarket staff, youth groups, theatre groups, bus drivers, the police, museum staff, people working in sports and leisure, faith communities.
The UK government recently legislated that public and commercial services must provide access to important information for everyone, including sign and symbol users. This can be achieved by translation into Makaton symbols and signs.

For example, it is important to understand what a visit to the dentist is all about, to understand about the medication you are taking and its effects, to become aware of danger such as fire or danger from electricity, to have confidence to travel on public transport, and to have access to public buildings.

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Intensive interaction is an approach to teaching the pre-speech fundamentals of communication to children and adults who have severe learning difficulties and/or autism and who are still at an early stage of communication development. The approach was developed during the nineteen-eighties by the team of staff working at Harperbury Hospital School Herfordshire. Harperbury was a school for people who have severe learning difficulties on the campus of a large long-stay hospital in southern England. The developments followed the work of the late Geraint Ephraim Ph.D, a psychologist who worked in the Hertfordshire long-stay hospitals.

Dave Hewett Ph.D and Melanie Nind Ph.D, were teachers at Harperbury School, and they carried out Intensive Interaction research projects at the school as part of the development work. They have published three books on the approach (e.g. ‘Access to Communication’ London: David Fulton 1994) and extensive other publications.


PODD stands for:

  • Pragmatic – the ways that we use language socially
  • Organisation – words and symbols arranged in a systematic way
  • Dynamic Display – changing pages.


PODD is a way of organising whole word and symbol vocabulary in a communication book or speech generating device to provide immersion and modelling for learning.

The aim of a PODD is to provide vocabulary:

  • for continuous communication all the time
  • for a range of messages
  • across a range of topics
  • in multiple environments.
  • PODDs can have different formats, depending on the individual physical, sensory and communication needs of the person who will use it.
  • PODDs have been developed over the past 15 years by Gayle Porter, a speech pathologist with the Cerebral Palsy Education Centre (CPEC) in Victoria. Each PODD format has been shaped by the experiences of both children with complex communication needs (CCN), and their communication partners.

A tool for communication

PODD is designed to be just one ‘tool’ in a person’s ‘toolbox of communication methods’.

We all use multiple communication methods, such as speech, gestures, pointing, facial expressions and writing, and we tend to choose whichever method is most effective for each situation.

In the same way, a person with SEN may use a number of different methods to communicate. They will choose their most efficient methods when communicating messages, whether that is speech, signing, symbols, a communication device or another way.



All of us need to integrate sensory information from both within our own body and from our environment to learn, develop and enjoy life.

Sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell are the senses most people are aware of. In addition to these, we have a hidden sense of proprioception (knowing the position of our body) and vestibular (involving balance, gravity and movement through space). For us to function well we need to be effective in integrating all the different sensory information we receive.

Some students have increased difficulty with sensory processing and require additional opportunity during the day to have their sensory needs addressed – this is vital to help the student achieve a calm alert state to learn and provides the building blocks to develop higher level skills.

Drawing from the initial work of Dr Jean Ayres on sensory integration from the 1960’s, sensory strategies drawing on her theory have developed to help with day to day life and to help promote integration of sensation.

At Portesbery we have a wide range of specially selected sensory strategies including sensory activities, environments and curriculum adaptations. These can be accessed regularly throughout the day in the form of a sensory diet aiming to individually address student’s sensory needs and help them meet their potential. Examples include:

The School Grounds

Our school grounds have been designed with architects, teaching staff and therapists to challenge and develop students’ proprioceptive and vestibular systems including:

  • Slide built into the hillside.
  • Slopes to provide resistance work for students’ muscles
  • Steps can be used not only to develop stepping and looking to help manage stairs at home, but also a repetitive proprioceptive activity to help students organise themselves. Rails provide additional support.
  • Swings (dish, rotating and traditional) have been specially selected to provide vestibular input or to calm/organise/arouse as well as provide different levels of postural challenge.
  • The circular track can be used by wheelchair users or for cycling, scooters, didicars or balance bikes. This helps develop higher level movement and balance skills.
  • The outdoor gym includes 9 pieces of equipment and 2 is extensively used for morning workouts, movement breaks, calming and stress relief.
  • The flat astro turf of the MUGA provides an area that can not only be accessed by all students, but provides opportunities to develop higher level movement and balance skills. It offers students access to a wide range of physical activities, which can help reduce frustration, improve health, coordination and release energy in order to be able to come back to class and sit and learn.

Wheelchair Users

All of the outdoor area is accessible to wheelchair users, with specific equipment designed to provide variety and vestibular input.

  • Wheelchair swing
  • Wheelchair roundabout
  • Sloped climbing frame

The slopes and varied terrain of the school grounds offer a challenge to those using motorised wheelchairs.

Hydrotherapy Pool

The school pool is used predominantly for hydrotherapy and physio programmes. Moving a child through water in different ways challenges their vestibular sense, and because water provides resistance children get better proprioceptive feedback as to where there body is in space when they move. Swimming lessons are also offered to the primary department. Those who have greater sensory challenges use the pool for calming, relaxation and sensory feedback.

Specific Class Strategies

Classes have access to activities that can stimulate and calm the children as appropriate throughout the day, with them being able to return to the class ready to learn again. Examples include access to a trampette to stimulate arousal or a physio ball for deep pressure work to calm. Regular movement breaks are used to help children refocus, and time in a quiet, distraction free environment can help a child who may become overloaded by sensory input, chance to calm.

Hall Activities

Wake up and Stretch gives opportunity for students to move in a stimulating, busy, noisy environment requiring a high level of integration of sensation. Movement can be provided in a variety of ways to the students, from being passively moved to music in a wheelchair, to higher level movement skills of co-ordinating movement to a song.

Sensory Circuits provides a controlled environment where students experience specifically selected alerting, organising and calming activities to develop their sensory motor skills, with the aim of them returning to class, calm and alert and ready to learn.


Some example of Sensory Strategies are shown in the gallery below: