Hedgewood provides an environment that actively supports all pupils in their communication and language acquisition, tailoring provision to meet the individual child’s specific communication needs.

Many pupils with autism and special educational needs have difficulty in expressing their wants and needs. We know that not being able to communicate can result in frustration and challenging behaviour. Everyone needs to be able to ask for the things they need or want. Hedgewood School is a Total Communication Environment. The aim of a TCE is to ensure each pupil with a communication need experiences a consistent and coherent approach to meeting their communication needs across the school.


Hedgewood has three curriculum pathways, each focuses on the development of functional communication, independent life skills and ensures appropriate preparation for adult life and future well-being.

For pupils with the most complex learning needs our Essentials for Living (EfL) pathway develops a method of communication that enables each pupil to request, make choices, develop their independence and understand communication from others to help them keep safe and enjoy future well-being. For many EfL pupils incidents of challenging behaviour function as communication. We aim to reduce challenging behaviours by giving pupils an effective method of communication.

Our Foundation for Life (F4L) has functional communication as central to its aims. F4L develops independent living skills, functional early Maths and English, social interaction and emotional regulation.

Our Core Curriculum (CC) is designed for more verbal pupils who study a wide range of adapted National Curriculum subjects. Within this curriculum pathway, the importance of social communication is a focus through all learning, and is adapted to address each pupil’s specific communication need.

Expressive Communication

Pupils who cannot speak are provided with an effective method of communication so they can effortlessly communicate with everybody, at any time. We use a range of resources and have a clear system for to selecting, trialling and establishing an effective communication method for each learner, when they start at Hedgewood. Common ‘Alternative Methods of Speaking’ (AMS) are; basic signs, idiosyncratic signs, Signalong (a system of manual signing used alongside speech) and pointing to or exchanging pictures from a book on a belt worn by the pupil. Electronic Communication Aids can also be used when appropriate, such as Quick Talker grids, or ‘pro loquo2go’ on the iPad.

For pupils who communicate using speech, we develop their language skills and vocabulary, working towards the vocabulary and grammar of Standard English. We support pupils to formulate, clarify and express their ideas clearly, as well as developing their understanding and use of social language.

Social Communication

Modelling communication is something all adults in school do throughout the day. This includes modelling language, social interaction and social rules. All formal and informal activities in school are learning opportunities for the child with autism. Our teaching staff engage with pupils to develop their social skills through play and by modelling language.

We build social engagement and interaction skills through:

  • Intensive Interaction- this builds meaningful relationships, and initiates and maintains a meaningful social interaction.
  • Attention Hedgewood- this promotes attention and listening skills which are the foundation for speech, language and communication development.
  • play
  • generalising turn-taking skills into other environments
  • building pupils’ inferencing skills,
  • building pupils’ predicting skills,
  • modelling appropriate language and encouraging pupils to rehearse it
  • developing pupils’ understanding of social rules,
  • role playing which helps pupils to understand how to act in different situations
  • discussion with pupils of social situations and scenarios

Other strategies to support communication:

Visual Timetables – pictorial/photographic/symbolic representation of the order of the school day. Each class has a large timetable running from left to right or top to bottom. Some pupils require individual timetables or schedules referring to daily their events or activity sequences. Some pupils need ‘Now, Next and Then boards’, or individual task checklists to support them in completing their work.

Signing – teaching children to read and make signs. Our school is a fully signing establishment. We incorporate the use of signing (including idiosyncratic signing for pupils with the most complex needs) to ensure pupils who sign can communicate their needs and wishes with everyone in school.

Symbol choice boards – these are available in classrooms for pupils who are unable to make independent choices and requests. Pupils are encouraged to use these to make choices during an activity (e.g. snack time). Choice symbols are replaced for each activity to enable the child to select their preference, promoting communication.

EAL Support – we identify each children for whom English is a second language and provide additional mother-tongue language-based support to enhance language acquisition and understanding.

Use of Adapted TEACCH system (where required) – support with focusing, independence skills, following an individual timetable, intensive interaction, building on tasks specific to the child. By providing a clear structure for their learning, we enhance pupils’ communication skills.

Reducing visual distractions – when pupils are focused on learning tasks, we remove distractions, such as toys, only allowing access during ‘free time’ or ‘choice times’.

Symbols – pictorial representations of a spoken or written word. Hedgewood School has its own symbol set, made up of colour and black and white symbols. These are used throughout the school.

Visual Jigs and Social Stories – Visual jigs break down a multi-step task into smaller visual components. Social stories are written to enable individuals with autism to understand and adapt their behaviours in difficult social situation. These are written in a specific format. Both are used as necessary by teachers and SALTs.

Shape Coding (used with pupils when they are ready for grammatical structure) – It builds pupils’ expressive communication. It is a visual system with set shapes and colours that code parts of speech and written grammar. This approach is used in a range of situations e.g. telling weekend news, answering questions and commenting.

Employing multi-sensory teaching and learning approaches – (concrete, visual, abstract) e.g. if there is a topic story for the week, use this across lessons, food, PE, English, etc.

Attention Hedgewood – an attention and listening programme developed by Gina Davies (Consultant SALT) has four stages to develop pupils’ ability to attend within a group situation. ‘Bucket time’ sessions are used throughout the school, twice a week, and are led by all staff. Sessions are appropriate to the pupils’ stage of attention development and activities are linked to the focus of the curriculum.

Talking mats – support pupils to talk about their opinions and choices. Low level conversation starters can be used for emotional regulation.

Role play areas – role play is a way for a child to consolidate the skills they have learnt. This is a natural process of development for most children but pupils with autism require support with this. Having role play areas in the classroom or encouraging role play in the playground help the child with autism, practise these skills and generalise them in everyday life.

Promoting independence skills – dressing, eating, personal organisation, independence in learning, and generalising the ability to be independent across different settings.

Praise – we praise achievements of any size, helping to build pupils’ self-esteem and confidence.

Building resilience – we have started working on mindfulness activities to build pupils’ resilience. This includes a strong focus on building self-esteem. Some classes use ‘a jar of compliments’, encouraging pupils to think of something about themselves they feel good about, and then think about something they can compliment in others.


Pupils have an effective method of communication so they can effortlessly communicate their needs, wishes and choices to every adult in school.


Communication Curriculum End Points

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