Essential For Living (EFL) is a functional life skills curriculum written by McGreevy et al. It uses evidence based strategies and methods to teach fundamental skills that increase communication and reduce behaviours that challenge. Life skills taught from the EFL curriculum have a direct impact on the child and their families’ quality of life.

Visit the Essential For Living website to learn more!

Applied Behaviour Analysis and Verbal Behaviour

ABA/VB is all about using the science of behaviour to understand why behaviour is occurring, how to change behaviour and how to teach practical skills, communication and language.

EFL uses ABA/VB protocols and methods within the natural environment such as; positive reinforcement, rapid prompt fading, errorless teaching and task analysing so that our children have a very positive experience when learning and can reach their full potential.

EFL is a ABA/VB curriculum that demonstrates how ABA/VB practise can be used in a positive way to improve quality of life for learners and their families.

We have a range of research and evidence to support our curriculum’s impact on our pupils.

Expressive Communication

Many children with Autism and special educational needs have difficulties with their ability to express their wants and needs. We know that not being heard can lead to frustration and challenging behaviours. Everyone should have the ability to be able to ask for the things they need or want.

In our EFL classes, children who cannot currently say words are provided with an effective method of communication so that they can effortlessly communicate to everybody, all of the time. The EFL curriculum provides the resources and steps in how to select, trial and establish an effective communication method for each learner. Common ‘Alternative Methods of Speaking’ (AMS) for those who need one at Hedgewood are; basic signs, idiosyncratic signs and pointing to or exchanging pictures from a book on a belt that the young person wears.

“This is amazing for him to request a song. Thank you so much for your amazing help and support.”


“now he is asking for everything very independently, if he is hungry he is asking for a sandwich If he wants water he will give us the picture of water, if he wants a fizzy drink he will show us the picture from his belt. He knows very well what he wants. He is even showing us a photo of the park if he wants to go out”

Receptive Communication

Sometimes we find that our children cannot respond to or follow our directions, including those common directions that keep them safe such as; “stop”, “come here” and “hold my hand”. We use EFL protocols including the use of positive reinforcement in the form of praise, opportunities to request and access to preferred items and activities in order to teach these important skills. Being able to listen and respond to directions related to health and safety opens up opportunities for the child and their family to access their environment and the community without risks.

We also teach children to listen and respond to other every day directions often related to daily events such as “get a spoon”, “put on your coat” and “put your plate in the sink”.

“He waited quietly and sat patiently in the waiting room for a full 20 minutes. He continued to sit calmly even in the consultation room with the doctor allowing me time to speak to her. He followed instructions to have his height and weight measured without fuss and even had his blood pressure taken, successfully. I couldn’t believe how patient and calm he was and how well he was listening to instructions and following them. I’m a very proud Mummy!”

Building Toleration

Often children with autism and special educational needs find it difficult to tolerate some everyday situations such as; being able to accept ‘no’, wait, share and take turns. At home we may try to avoid certain situations which lead to our child displaying challenging behaviour. We might find ourselves; waking up in the night to cut our sleeping child’s nails, never asking our child to put away their iPad or always keeping their siblings separated out of concern about what might happen.

Avoiding these everyday situations only increases the chances of the challenging behaviour getting worse and can lead to a restricted life for the child and their family. We sensitively, carefully and gradually teach toleration skills through EFL protocols and work with families on identifying the toleration skill that will make home life better.

“he is also now progressing very well in his ability to wait, accepting the word no, and things he can’t have, without getting frustrated. All of these very important life skills have a huge impact on family life, what we can do as a family, and how we see the future.”


“I never thought he would be able to wear his glasses”

Independence and other key daily living skills

We teach our children to be as independent as possible in all aspects of their day to day life. Children in our EFL pathway learn a wide range of daily living skills such as; dressing and undressing, washing their hands, using the toilet, brushing their teeth and using cutlery to eat. Exercise is important for our health too and we participate in this daily. We also have a focus on play and leisure skills, so that our children can occupy themselves safely without constant supervision as well as participate in a range of fun group activities with each other.

“He is putting his socks and shoes on in the morning before school now without any help from me at all. I can’t believe it!”


 “Fantastic to see [my child] becoming more independent”

Our EFL Learning Environment

Our classroom facilities enable pupils to learn independence skills in a natural context. We have changing rooms and locker rooms, kitchenettes, shower facilities, art and cooking areas and a ‘stay and play’ room. We also have a realistic ‘Dentist’ room and ‘café’.

Our pupils either independently make or participate in the making of the items sold from our Gift Shop. We learn lots of purposeful life skills through the making, packing and delivering of our gifts. Gifts can be bought by Hedgewood parents and staff via ParentMail. What is available to purchase changes every half term. In the past we have made bath bombs, keyrings, sun catchers, magnets, bracelets and more! The money from purchases cover the cost of our craft resources and any further profits are donated charity.


Dr Heather Armstrong alongside Warwick University have recently carried out research at our school, investigating the link between crucial EFL skill deficits and the chances of challenging behaviour occurring. Watch this space to access Dr Armstrong’s article publication.

Hedgewood School and Hillingdon’s CAMHSLD have also presented posters on skill building at the Challenging Behaviour Foundation and BILD.


Click this link to read one of posters presented at BILD

“Since my child has been following the Essential for Living Curriculum, I have noticed at home considerable changes and improvements in his behavior, independence, happiness and wellbeing. He is certainly a more contented and less frustrated little boy than he has been in the past before he started EFL”


 “The EFL curriculum fits him like a glove, and I’m so pleased he will have another year to experience this.”

Watch more EFL in action at Hedgewood School

Watch and listen to parent talk about the impact of EFL

Other Resources


Read Case Study

Listen to the authors of EFL discuss the concept and reason behind this ground breaking curriculum

Contact us

To learn more about how we implement the EFL curriculum at Hedgewood School then please contact Victoria Leahy at

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