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Learning Approaches

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Learning Approaches

In the Provision for autism Early years and key stage 1 is structured to be active and experiential where children enjoy a sensory approach to the curriculum in order to engage in their learning. They are given every opportunity to achieve at their level of learning. We enjoy many educational trips in the community and beyond to give pupils opportunity to embed their learning in real life contexts.

The curriculum for EYFS underpins all future learning and therefore supports, promotes and develops the children’s personal, social and emotional wellbeing, physical development, communication and language interaction, positive attitudes towards learning, social skills, attention skills, as well as their creative development.

All activities and lessons are planned though the 7 areas of learning as well as providing opportunity for children to develop the characteristics of learning: focusing on the 3 prime areas of learning: Communication and Language, Physical Development, Personal Social Emotional Development and the 4 specific areas: Expressive Arts and Design, Maths, Literacy and Understanding the World.

Learning in Key Stage 1 is more structured than in the EYFS, with a balance being created between adult-directed group activities and play-based learning activities where appropriate.

The curriculum for Key Stage 1 supports the development of pupils’ self-help and functional skills, social communication, emotional wellbeing and social interaction.

In the Provision for Autism at Key Stage 2 we provide all of our pupil’s with a rich curriculum that encourages communication, independence and functional learning. We recognise strengths and areas of development of each pupil and use our skills and strategies to meet their individual needs to ensure they make progress throughout Key Stage 2.

Key Stage 2 pupils follow a modified National Curriculum level.

The Provision has a three year termly cycle.  Pupils are taught lessons through termly topics, over the course of a year, pupils will acquire a range of knowledge and develop skills based on experiential learning. This helps them to make links in their learning and build ideas about themselves and the world around them.  There is a key focus on personal development and independence.

Language and Communication are incorporated into every lessons so pupils are given the opportunity to communicate verbally or using PECS, signing and visuals. There is a focus on phonics and reading. Teacher’s planning is individually differentiated ensuring that pupils are taught in a personalised, practical, multi-sensory way.

The role of the therapy team:

To skill staff in good basic autism practice (universal service) that supports the language and communication and sensory needs of children in the Provision.

To support the development of specific skills (targeted service) that reduce barriers to learning

Periodically, specialist work (that only therapist can deliver) may be needed

Speech and Language Therapy  

You have the right to find out things and share what you think with others, by talking, drawing, writing or in any other way…

Article 13 UN convention on rights of the child-Child friendly version

The Speech and Language therapist works to enable the communication and interaction skills of children in the Provision embodying a Total Communication Approach that values the range of ways in which children may need to understand and communicate about their desires, thoughts and feelings.

Speech and Language Therapy is integrated into all aspects of the children’s day in the Provision for Autism. The curriculum is delivered through the Attention Approach ( which is a communication-based approach.

  • Attention Autism is an intervention model designed by Gina Davies, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist.  It aims to develop natural and spontaneous communication through the use of visually based and highly motivating activites.  Gina’s primary objective is that the sessions are fun and ‘offer an irresistible invitation to learn’!
  • This approach is used across classes to develop attention and listening skills and to help develop independence.


Communication and interaction opportunities are core features of the academic, autism-specific and functional aspects of the curriculum. That means that from when the children arrive to lessons, play and lunchtimes to home time, understanding is supported,  expressive skills are promoted and interaction is nurtured.

The Speech and Language Therapist assesses children to find out their Speech language and communication needs (SLCN- which includes social skills) when they come to the school. This assessment is carried out over a few weeks across a range of activities. For most children this is done by observations, direct interaction and discussions with school staff and parents. For some children, language tests might be used.

For each child, SLT sets targets that:

  • identify appropriate good classroom practice that should be in place to support the child’s communication and interaction
  • are specific to their needs of each child, that progress the child towards functional goals e.g.  to use picture exchange (PECS) in a game with a friend, to be able to take turns in a group activity

To support the Universal Service, the therapist plans teaching content with class teachers and provide training/coaching for staff and parents

To support the targeted service, the SLT provides assessment, modelling, coaching and training with occasional home visits

To deliver specialist input, SLT provides 1-1 direct work as needed

Other SLT work involves:

  • Attendance at meetings for individual children
  • Liaison with a range of other professionals
  • Writing policies, reports, programmes
  • Providing training/workshops


Multi-disciplinary Working

The Therapy Team work with other professionals as a multi-disciplinary team around families as required

School Nurse:Ayten Deniz
Educational Psychologist: 
Link Social Worker for MDT:Arzu Kaya

Attention Autism is an intervention model designed by Gina Davies, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist. It aims to develop natural and spontaneous communication through the use of visually based and highly motivating activities. Gina’s primary objective is that the sessions are fun and “offer an irresistible invitation to learn”!

Aims of Attention Autism

  • To engage attention
  • To improve joint attention
  • To develop shared enjoyment in group activities
  • To increase attention in adult-led activities
  • To encourage spontaneous interaction in a natural group setting
  • To increase non-verbal and verbal communication through commenting
  • To build a wealth and depth of vocabulary
  • To have fun!

Stages of Attention Autism

The Attention Autism programme progresses through a series of stages, building on each skill level. Each new stage is introduced when the group is ready to expand attention skills.

Stage 1: The Bucket to Focus Attention

A bucket is filled with visually engaging objects and toys, aiming to gain the shared attention of the group. The adult leader shows each item to the group and uses simple repetitive vocabulary to comment on the various objects. Click here for video of The Bucket.

Stage 2: The Attention Builder

Visually stimulating activities are shown to the group by the adult leader, aiming to sustain attention for a longer period. The activities are fun, visually engaging and can often involve delightful mess!

Stage 3: Turn taking & Re-engaging Attention

The adult leader demonstrates a simple activity, often modelled with another adult in the group. Some children are then invited to have a turn but only if they are comfortable to do so. Not every child in the group will get a turn, which then teaches important emotional regulation skills, as well as the essential skills of waiting, turn-taking and learning through modelling.

Stage 4: Shifting & Re-engaging Attention

Stage 4 aims to develop the skill of engaging and shifting attention. The adult leader demonstrates a simple creative task, and then gives each child an individual kit to copy the task. The children take their kits to a table, complete the task independently, and then everyone returns to the group to show their completed tasks.

More complex skills can be introduced as confidence and social skills develop e.g. sharing materials, working with a partner, problem solving.

Attention Autism principles can then be generalised to curriculum activities (e.g. literacy and numeracy) to facilitate learning and skill development.

At Mulberry Primary School Provision for Autism we use intensive interaction with pupils who are developing early interaction skills.

Intensive interaction was devised by David Hewett and Melanie Nind in the 1980’s. The basis of their approach came from examination of the characteristics of the caregiver-infant interaction model during the first two years of life for typically developing children.

The approach is designed to help people for whom communication can be very difficult. This includes children who are not yet using language.

The aims of this approach are to teach the following ‘fundamentals of communication’ which need to be in place for effective communication and learning to develop:

  • Enjoying being with another person
  • Developing the ability to attend to that person
  • Concentration and attention span
  • Sharing personal space and giving and receiving touch
  • Using and understanding eye contact
  • Using and understanding facial expression and body language
  • Taking turns with another person so that communication can take place
  • Starting to use movements and noises with meaning
  • Having fun and enjoying being with others


The theory which underlies the approach is based on the interaction between an adult and child, and focuses on developing opportunities for communication. The adult and child share quality one to one time together where the adult follows the child’s lead at all times.

During the sessions, the adult watches the child closely in order to follow the child’s lead, on his/her level.

At all times the adult tries to convey to the child that they are in control and builds on the child’s early communication skills. In this way everyone interacting with the child can come to learn their communication signals.

Structured Teaching–The TEACCH Method

Structured teaching via the TEACCH method was developed by Professor Eric Schopler and many of his colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The TEACCH method is not considered an actual therapy but rather a therapeutic tool to help autistic children understand their surroundings. Autistic children often have difficulty with receptive and expressive language, sequential memory, and handling changes in their environment. The TEACCH method provides the child with structure and organisation. This method relies on five basic principles; a brief description of each is provided below.

Physical structure

Physical structure refers to the actual layout or surroundings of a person’s environment, such as a classroom, home, or group home. The physical boundaries are clearly defined and usually include activities like: work, play, snack, music, and transitioning.


A schedule or planner is set up which indicates what the child is supposed to do and when it is supposed to happen. The child’s schedule clearly shows through words, photographs, drawings, or whatever medium is easiest for the child to comprehend.

Work system

The work system tells the child what is expected of him/her during an activity, how much is supposed to be accomplished, and what happens after the activity is completed. The goal is to teach the child to work independently. The work system is also organised in such a way that the child has little or no difficulty figuring out what to do. For example, the activity or task should be performed from top to bottom and from left to right.


According to the TEACCH method, the most functional skill for autistic individuals is a routine which involves checking one’s schedule and following the established work system. This routine can then be used throughout the child’s lifetime and in multiple situations.

Visual structure

Visual structure refers to visually-based cues regarding organisation, clarification, and instructions to assist the child in understanding what is expected of him/her. For example, a visual structure may involve using coloured containers to assist the person in sorting coloured materials into various groups or displaying an example of a stamped envelope when the child is asked to place stamps on envelopes. The TEACCH method is primarily used to assist the autistic child in better understanding his/her environment. The techniques described above are not faded out over time; but rather, they are to be consistently used across a variety of environments.

What is PECS?

PECS is an intervention used with people with Autism to support their ability to express themselves using pictures.  More than using pictures for visual support, PECS is a functional communication system that develops important communication and social skills. PECS is appropriate for people of all ages with a wide range of learning difficulties.  Originally developed for pre-school children with autism, PECS is now being successfully used with adults and children with a range of communication difficulties. PECS can be used anywhere that someone communicates.

The six phases of PECS

Phase I – How to Communicate

Students learn to exchange single pictures for items or activities they really want.

Phase II – Distance and Persistence

Still using single pictures, students learn to generalise this new skill by using it in different places, with different people and across distances. They are also taught to be more persistent communicators.

Phase III – Picture Discrimination

Students learn to select from 2 or more pictures to ask for their favourite things. These are placed in a communication book – a ring binder with Velcro® strips allowing pictures to be stored and easily removed for communication.

Phase IV –  Sentence Structure

Students learn to construct simple sentences on a detachable sentence strip using an ‘I want’ picture followed by a picture of the item being requested.

Phase V – Answering Questions

Students learn to use PECS to answer the question, “What do you want?”

Phase VI – Commenting

Now students are taught to comment in response to questions like ‘What do you see?’, ‘What do you hear?’, ‘What is it?’, etc. They learn to make up sentences starting with ‘I see’, ‘I hear’, ‘I feel’, ‘It is a’, etc.

Attributes and Language Expansion

Students learn to expand their sentences by adding adjectives, verbs, prepositions, etc.

What does SPELL stand for?

SPELL stands for ’Structure Positive Empathy, Low arousal Links’. These are all aspects of this framework which are focussed upon in this intervention to reduce dependency and encourage self-awareness and independence.


By introducing structure, the environment is modified in ways that are easily predictable i.e. the child is aware of what is expected from them and what will happen next. Visual timetables and other visual prompts utilise the strengths of children with ASD as they are mostly visual learners. Offering choice boards during unstructured times (play time and lunch time) in school also helps in providing structure. Similarly, communication can also be structured by calling the child’s name, gaining their attention before offering instructions and giving them adequate time to process and respond to the instructions.

Positive (approaches and expectations)

In order to explore the potential of children with ASD, it is very important to plan intervention programmes that are based on careful assessments, which in turn determine realistically high expectations. Positive feedback (reward strategies) and motivators can be used to ensure that appropriate behaviours are continued. Behaviour plans must be put into place while dealing with challenging behaviours. Identifying a child’s strengths and building on them is the key to success in intervention.


Seeing the world through the eyes of a child with ASD is the most important aspect of working with them. To gather a better insight into their world, it is essential to understand their experiences by viewing things from their perspective. Some children who are non-verbal have a lot to say through their behaviour, hence effective support workers/professionals must be endowed with personal attributes of calmness, sensitivity, positive regard and an analytical disposition.

Low Arousal

To aid concentration and reduce anxiety, the environment must be calm and well-ordered. There should be no distractions. Some children with auditory processing difficulties may require additional time to process information. We may need to pay attention to aversive or distracting stimuli for e.g. noise levels, colour schemes, odours, lighting, clutter etc. Care should be taken not to overload or bombard children, which can be made possible by giving clear information that is best suited to them. Low arousal does not mean ‘no’ arousal. Children must be exposed to a range of experiences but this should be done in a sensitive way considering the fact that they could be oversensitive to certain stimuli.


Strong links most be established between everybody involved in the intervention programme including parents, teaching assistance, teachers and other professionals to ensure that the child’s needs are addressed from a holistic perspective. The child with ASD and their parents are very much seen as partners in the therapeutic process. These links enable them to participate in the wider community in a far more meaningful way. The SPELL framework can be applied across all individuals with ASD and can also be used as a complementary approach to other methods of intervention.

SPELL: the National Autistic Society framework for intervention


The SPELL approach uses structure to make the environment of the child with autism feel more predictable, accessible and ‘safe’. Structure can aid personal autonomy and independence by reducing the person’s dependence on others. In terms of the curricular/activity/event environment this would include well-structured visual schedules, plans and routines providing:
  • advance warning of what is about to happen
  • help with staying on task during activities (e.g. visual reminders and reinforcers)
  • visual support alongside spoken instructions (perhaps using devices such as PECS symbols
  • Isolation of the central idea or key information
  • Clear, concrete expectations (again illustrated visually, e.g. with photographs of what the finished task should look like).
In terms of the physical and sensory environment, ‘structure’ might take the form of well defined spaces used for a designated purpose. Teachers and staff might use symbols, photographs and pictures to show exactly what is happening in a space or where something is kept. The social environment might be given more ‘structure’ by use of interventions such as Social Stories™

Positive (approaches and expectations)

Schools and services using the SPELL ‘framework’ work positively with a person’s autism and their learning style. This might take the form of ‘embedding’ aspects of a person’s special interest within a target learning activity, or using access to their special interest as a motivator or reward for trying something new. SPELL is also positive in that it precludes the use of punishments etc. Many people with autism may avoid new or potentially difficult experiences, but the use of structure and supportive rehearsal can reduce anxiety anxiety and help the person to tolerate and accept such experiences and develop new horizons and skills.


This aspect of the SPELL framework focuses on staff attitudes to, and knowledge of, autism and how it uniquely affects each person on the autism spectrum. Being able to ‘think’ and ‘see’ like a person with autism is key.

Low arousal

This aspect of SPELL relates to measures taken to reduce anxiety and aid concentration. Distractions are minimised as far as possible. Steps are taken to remove potentially aversive or distracting stimuli (e.g. noise levels, colour schemes, odours, lighting and clutter) and to manage the ‘demand environment’. This aspect of SPELL would also relate to how staff respond to and manage difficult behaviour; for instance, managing incidents and aggression with calmness and a positive disposition.


This aspect of the SPELL framework relates to communication between staff/teachers and also between parents and staff/teachers. The objective of this component of SPELL is to provide consistency of approach.

Communication is the transmission of a message from one person to at least one other.  It can take a number of different forms ranging from early communicative behaviours such as eye gaze, vocalisations and body movements to the more sophisticated communication methods of speech and writing. Communication is a social interaction fundamental to human relationships, which underpins all aspects of school life.

Mulberry Primary School Provision for Autism supports communication impairment across all modes of communication: speech language, intonation, gesture, facial expression and other body language.

It is through communication that the student has access to education, through shared learning, discussion and exploration


Enabling students with autism to communicate spontaneously should constitute a major goal throughout their educational careers.

(Potter and Whittaker, Enabling Communication 2002)

At Mulberry Primary School Provision for Autism we promote an inclusive communicative environment which:

  • Emphasises an environment which encourages communication and functional skills
  • Enables each child to develop their understanding in order to access information about what is happening next
  • Allows all children to make decisions
  • Enables each child to communicate their needs and interact effectively with others
  • Supports and promotes independent learning and problem solving strategies.
  • Allows the development of independence skills through communication. Support learning with relevant symbols/words, visual supports and structures to ensure meaningful participation.

What are social stories?

Social stories were created by Carol Gray in 1991 to help teach social skills to children / adults on the autism spectrum. They are short descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why.

Social stories have a huge range of applications, including:

  • to develop self-care skills (eg how to clean teeth, wash hands or get dressed), social skills (eg sharing, asking for help, saying thank you, interrupting) and academic abilities
  • to help a person with autism to understand how others might behave or respond in a particular situation, and therefore how they might be expected to behave
  • to help others understand the perspective of a person with autism and why they may respond or behave in a particular way
  • to help a person to cope with changes to routine and unexpected or distressing events (eg absence of teacher, moving house, thunderstorms)
  • to provide positive feedback to a person about an area of strength or achievement in order to develop self-esteem
  • as a behavioural strategy (eg what to do when angry, how to cope with obsessions).