14th December 2022
4 areas of SEND: Communication and Interaction
This is the first in a series of guest blogs about the 4 areas of SEND. This article was produced by Emma Bara, Co-Founder at WeCanAccess, a social enterprise aimed at making the world a more accessible and inclusive place for people with disabilities, their families and carers.
Communication & Interaction
If you work in education, you need to be able to communicate with your learners.
Communication is how we let someone know what we think, need or want, and how we understand what other people think, need or want. There are many ways that people communicate, talking is just one of them, and right now I am communicating with you in text.
To be able to communicate clearly with someone, you need to understand how they express themselves, and how they understand what you are telling them. It is vital that both the learner and staff understand what is being communicated. Knowing which communication method is best for them is key to the success of the process.
Expressive communication is how someone expresses themselves to you. It includes speaking (verbal), making noises (for example grunting), sign language, pointing to images or objects, facial expressions, body language, written text or drawing pictures.
Receptive communication is how someone receives or understands the information you are giving them. For someone to understand you, you need to know how they receive and understand the message that you are giving them. You need to ask and think about what you need to do to help them understand. Do you need to speak more slowly and clearly? Use simple language? Use images? Videos? Sign language? Can they read your lips or clearly see your facial expressions?
Space, lighting, colours, noise, and smells of places all make a difference to how you react to people and your ability to communicate.
For example, shadows or bright lighting in one part of the room may impact your ability to see. We are taught that children love bright colours but for some, it may be over-stimulating and confusing. The acoustics of a room (the way that sound moves around a room) can mean that a child can hear you clearly or it can muffle or confuse that sound. A crowded area can be distracting for a child and a wide-open space can make someone feel exposed and vulnerable.
We need to understand the impact the physical environment has on people. It is a tricky one to unpick, but knowing your pupils’ needs and preferences will help you provide the best physical space for them. It will also help you anticipate their reactions when you go somewhere new or something unexpected happens and put the most appropriate actions in place to support them.
You are also part of the environment!
What you wear, how you talk, smell and your body language can all have an impact on how the pupils interact with you. Sometimes those interactions are positive, but sometimes they can trigger a negative reaction. Think about this:
Jewellery could a jangly or sparkly piece of jewellery distract from learning? Or could it be used to draw attention away from a negative situation?
Clothing – could your clothing distract from learning, or restrict your movement? What does it communicate? A scary motif or formal clothing might stop a student from approaching you but wearing bright colours or fun motifs can ensure the children’s attention is on you and give you a unique identity for the kids to relate to.
Perfume or aftershave – is your perfume/ aftershave overpowering for sensitive noses? Or does how you smell provide a comforting environment or a positive message about personal hygiene?
Body language – Positioning your body too close to a child can be intimidating and being too far away can make you seem distant. Kneeling or bending down to a child’s level shows you are listening to them and makes you less threatening. Being aware of personal boundaries, e.g. knowing if a child likes or dislikes close contact can really help.
Facial expression – Does your facial expression match your verbal message? Conveying your own frustration or stress will cause the pupil to feel anxious and stop talking to you. Ensure your facial expressions match your message. This will help the student understand you.
Your Voice – Speaking too fast can mean children with processing delays or sensory impairments can’t keep up with you. Your tone and pitch can also impact the message that is received. If your tone does not match your message, misunderstandings can occur. Speaking calmly and steadily enables all children to keep up and speaking in the correct tones can immediately let a child know they are safe and can relax, get excited or have to concentrate.
How to find out what you need to know
So how do you work out how best to communicate with a pupil?
The first thing to do is to talk to the parents. Parents are usually the best source of information. A child has been learning to communicate with their parents since they were born. Tips, tricks and family behaviours used at home may be useful in other places. Create a tip sheet, with the parent’s top tips so you can quickly refer to it when needed.
Carry out a SWOT
It may be difficult to understand the best way to communicate with pupils. If you are not sure, it is worth observing the pupil and completing a SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) table to find the best and worst ways a pupil communicates. This is also something you can do with parents.
Below is a table that shows an example SWOT analysis for a pupil:
Can use the text function on a school mobile or tablet
Struggles to understand sentences with more than 6 words
Finds spelling hard when using pencils/pens and paper
Ask the pupil to draw pictures and images to show what they want and how they feel.
Give pupils a school mobile or tablet so they can communicate by text
Gets annoyed and frustrated when asked to write.
Throws pencils and pens when asked to write
The example above gives brief notes but the level of detail you include is up to you.
The observations enable you to start to develop ways to communicate with the pupil. In this case, text messaging (using school mobile phones/tablets) and asking the pupil to draw (using their skills), are starting points. As you and the pupil build your understanding, you can start to explore and introduce other types of communication.
When a person is not understood or finds it hard to communicate this can lead to increased levels of anxiety, stress and frustration which can then lead to the person feeling depressed, and harming themselves or others around them.
Expectations when communicating
It is vital to remember your end goal, which is for students to be able to understand you and learn what you are teaching. It is also for students to express themselves and be understood. It, therefore, does not matter how you communicate, as long as both teacher and learner are able to convey their messages to each other. It is an opportunity to be creative, have fun and enjoy the rewards when you make a connection with a pupil.
Like this blog? Learn more at the WeCanAccess Academy. WeCanAccess is a social enterprise aimed at making the world a more accessible and inclusive place for people with disabilities, their families and carers. Visit www.wecanaccess.com to find useful and free blogs, courses and resources.