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.  



  • PECS
  • Makaton
  • Intensive Interaction
  • PODD
  • Sensory Integration
  • Zones of Regulation
  • Positive Touch and Complementary Therapies



More details of these strategies and how they are used within the school can be found below.



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.

For more information visit


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.

For more information visit or click here.


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.

At Portesbery we have a fully qualified Makaton tutor - Jo Seldon.

For more information please visit the Makaton website.


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.

You can find out more on the Intensive Interaction website.


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

A 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.

You can learn more about PODD by searching for online resources.



Positive touch and complementary therapies are used at Portesbery as part of a wider project to improve the well being of pupils and staff alike. This includes Indian Head Massage, Reflexology (hands and feet) and Story Massage. These therapies are currently offered to individuals and groups throughout the school and our resident therapist Louise Sutherland is in the process of developing training programs in basic techniques for staff and parents. Last year we had 2 successful well-being days for staff and students where Indian Head Massage and Reflexology were on offer.

Positive Touch

Positive touch is very powerful. A hug is known to produce Oxytocin and Serotonin, which can help healing, and can make a person feel less anxious, less alone and happier.  However, not everyone is comfortable with a hug, so there are plenty of other ways that touch can be used in a positive way, beneficial to both the giver and receiver.

Story Massage

Story Massage is a fun and interactive way of enjoying positive touch through storytelling and simple massage strokes.  Everyone can join in, whatever age or ability.  Stories can be created to share feelings, re-tell events and activities.  The Story Massage strokes used are all concentrated on the back, shoulders, arms and head whilst fully clothed.


Reflexology can benefit everyone, from children to adults. It is a gentle, non-invasive therapy that encourages the body to balance and heal itself. It involves applying finger and thumb pressure to specific points on the feet. It can be enjoyed purely for relaxation purposes, or as a preventative therapy, for example the management of stress and stress related issues.

Louise offers reflexology to individuals and works with teams to support them in providing high quality foot and hand massage relaxation techniques for students. 

Indian Head Massage

Indian head massage has been used in Asia for over 5,000 years and works specifically on the area surrounding the head, scalp, face, neck, shoulders and upper back. Indian head massage comes from Ayurveda, an ancient method involving natural therapies, which encourages the mind, body and spirit to balance themselves. As with Reflexology, Louise works with teams and parents to teach basic head massage techniques and the principles of good practice.

Benefits of Reflexology and Indian Head Massage

Using Reflexology and Indian Head Massage on children with special educational needs has been shown to help with the following:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Reduce insomnia and improve sleep patterns
  • OCD
  • Reduce IBS/Digestive issues
  • Calm hyperactivity
  • Improve hypersensitivity to touch and sound
  • Help improve self-esteem and confidence
  • Help capacity to learn by improving attention span and concentration
  • Improve speech, social interaction and communication


Student/Parent Testimonials:

  • 'During Sally's last year at Portesbery School, she started having reflexology sessions with Louise Sutherland. At first I was a little sceptical of the idea, jokingly telling myself that it would be impossible for Sally to sit still for any length of time while someone else fiddled about with her feet. Sally, you have to understand, is quite active. And so it came as a surprise to find her calmer and more focussed after some months of reflexology with Louise. Her anxiety didn't wash her up as much. Then the notes came home from Louise of how she had sat through 30 minute sessions that particular day. And so when the time came for Sally to graduate from Portesbery, we decided to keep these sessions going at home.

    Enter reflexology into the house.When Louise comes for the sessions, armed with her portable bed, Sally pushes us aside to lie on the bed. Normally she refuses to go near a bed unless it's time for sleep. But there's no mucking around when Louise comes. She lies still for the whole session, sapping up the physical charges to her body. It is telling of this treatment that the whole family is now having sessions at home. I can't explain how I feel afterwards. Perhaps it's like a cup of tea, but the effects linger on for longer. We feel safer, rested. It's wonderful.'

Staff Testimonials:

  •  'I have received two Indian head massages from Louise and would recommend her to anyone. As an adult on the autism spectrum who is often uncomfortable with the kind of physical contact from others that head massage/reflexology entails, I found Louise's approach very sensitive and reassuring.  The absence of too many other stimuli to reduce distractions and anxiety is excellent as is her calm, professional and methodical delivery of the therapies. The actual effect afterwards - the literal cascade of calming neuro-transmitters is profound and lasts for a significant period of time. On a repetitive basis this would be very useful for children and adults whose condition causes them to carry around permanent levels of high anxiety and stress (I count myself as one of these people) as it would have an obvious impact on their wellbeing and learning. I had one of these head massages at a time of significant stress in my life and it lifted my mood and coping ability for several days.'




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.

You can learn more by visiting the Sensory Integration Website.



Why Teach Self-Regulation?

Regulation is something everyone continually works on whether we are aware of it or not. We all encounter trying circumstances that can test our limits. If we can recognize when we are becoming less regulated, we are able to do something about it to manage our feelings and get ourselves to a healthy place. This comes more naturally for some, but for others it is a skill that needs more attention and practice. This is the goal of The Zones of Regulation​.

Sorting Our Emotions Into Four Zones

Feelings are complicated. They come in different sizes, intensities, and levels of energy that are unique within our brains and bodies. To make them easier to talk about, think about, and regulate, The Zones of Regulation organizes our feelings, states of alertness, and energy levels into four colored Zones – Blue, Green, Yellow, and Red. The simple, common language and visual structure of The Zones of Regulation helps make the complex skill of regulation more concrete for learners and those who support them. We learn to regulate our Zones to meet our goals and task demands, as well as support our overall well-being.

The Four Zones

 The BLUE ZONE describes low states of alertness and down feelings, such as when a person feels sad, tired, sick, hurt, lonely, or bored. Our energy is low and our body is moving slowly when we are in the Blue Zone.

When in the Blue Zone we often need to rest and recharge to meet our goals. We can regulate by seeking (or co-regulate by offering) comfort, energizing, or resting. If we are feeling sick in the Blue Zone, we may need to rest. If we are feeling tired, we may need to energize (depending on the context). If we are feeling sad, we may need comfort. In all these situations, the common theme is noticing our lower energy and/or down feelings and options for managing them.


 The GREEN ZONE describes a calm, alert state. We may be feeling happy, focused, content, peaceful, or calm in the Green Zone. The nervous system feels safe, organized, and connected in the Green Zone, helping us be primed to learn. However, we can learn in other Zones too.

When in the Green Zone we regulate by using tools and supports that keep us moving forward comfortably, helping us feel ready to go! In the Green Zone, we might regulate by choosing to eat a healthy snack, exercise, take a break, or pause for a mindful moment. These restorative actions help us proactively care for ourselves so we can move forward with ease.


The YELLOW ZONE describes when our energy is higher, and our internal state starts to elevate. Our emotions get a little stronger. We may be experiencing stress, frustration, anxiety, excitement, silliness, confusion, nervousness, be overwhelmed, or have the wiggles, when in the Yellow Zone.

In the Yellow Zone we may need to take action to regulate to manage our energy and feelings as they get stronger. For example, if we are feeling energetic at the lunch table it helps to use caution and take a deep breath, so we do not spill something. If we are feeling nervous before our performance, we can slow down our racing thoughts and speech by using a mindfulness tool. When we are frustrated, and pause to take notice, we can decide to take a break to collect ourselves before we say something we regret.


The RED ZONE describes a state of extremely high energy and intense, very overwhelming feelings. We may be in an extremely heightened state of alertness, potentially triggering our fight, flight, freeze or flee protective response. We may feel elated, euphoric, anger, rage, devastated, out of control, panicked, or terrified when in the Red Zone.

When in the Red Zone we might need to pause and assess if we need to regulate and gain a sense of control of our strong feelings and high energy. For example, if we are feeling angry it may help to pause and count to 10 before we act. If we are panicked, we can stop and use our self-talk to help us gain a sense of control of our thoughts in order to meet our goal. If we are elated, such as when a teammate scores the winning point, we might need to pause and take a big breath to regulate our impulse to run out on the field to celebrate if there is still time on the clock.


More details of Zones of Regulation can be found on the official website (here).



The SCERTS® Model Prizant, Wetherby, Rubin, & Laurent, 2014

What is SCERTS?

SCERTS® is a comprehensive intervention model for children and older individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families.       

The model can also be used with individuals not on the autism spectrum who are developing social communication and emotional regulation skills.  SCERTS provides specific guidelines for helping an individual become a competent and confident social communicator and an active learner. Guidelines are also provided to help an individual to be most available for learning and engaging and to prevent problem behaviors. 

SCERTS is designed to help families, educators and therapists collaborate in a carefully coordinated manner.  The SCERTS Model is now being implemented across the US and in more than a dozen countries.  


The acronym “SCERTS” refers to the focus on: 

“SC” - Social Communication – the development of spontaneous, functional communication, emotional expression and secure and trusting relationships with children and adults.

“ER” - Emotional Regulation – the development of the ability to maintain a well-regulated emotional state to cope with everyday stress, and to be most available for learning and interacting.

“TS” – Transactional Support – the development and implementation of supports to help partners respond to the person’s needs and interests, modify the environment, and provide tools to enhance learning. Specific plans are developed to provide educational and emotional support to families, and to foster teamwork among professionals.  

The SCERTS Model includes a well-coordinated and flexible assessment process that helps a team measure the child’s progress, and determine the necessary supports to be used by the child’s partners (educators, peers and family members).

This assessment process ensures that:

  • functional, meaningful and developmentally-appropriate goals and objectives are selected
  • individual differences in a child’s style of learning, interests, and motivations are respected
  • parents are included as partners and the culture and lifestyle of the family are understood and respected 
  • the child is engaged in meaningful and functional activities throughout the day
  • supports are developed and used consistently across partners, activities, and environments
  • a child’s progress is systematically charted over time 
  • program quality is measured frequently to assure accountability


How does SCERTS compare to other approaches?

The SCERTS curriculum is developmentally sequenced and provides a systematic framework that ensures that specific skills and appropriate supports, stated as educational objectives, are selected and applied in a consistent manner across different settings such as home, school and community.  This process allows families and educational teams to draw from a wide range of evidence-based practices that, with a specific focus on promoting initiated communication and emotional regulation in everyday activities.   The SCERTS Model is most concerned with helping persons to achieve “Authentic Progress”, which is defined as the ability to learn and spontaneously apply functional and relevant skills in a variety of settings with a variety of partners.   


Full details of the SCERTS model can be found on the official website (here).