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Communication is central to an individual’s psychological, social, emotional and cognitive development. It is through communication that a child learns and develops. Ashmount recognises that each of our students is unique and so different communication approaches should be adopted according to students' skills and needs.

 A ‘total communication’ environment is provided, where: speech, objects of reference, body signs, photographs, Makaton signing, Widgit symbols and Information and Communication Technology (Speech Output Devices) are used throughout the school day, to assist our students to understand and communicate to the best of their abilities. We strive to create students who are confident communicators.


Language and communication skills are promoted in all aspects of school life – both in and outside the classroom. Tools such as TAC PAC (tactile assisted communication) and Dance Massage are also adopted. Many pupils benefit from individual withdrawal sessions. Ashmount employs a Lead Communication Mentor across school each day to allow this to happen. An additional teacher has also been appointed for a day a week to meet the needs of AAC and users.


A Speech and Language Therapist (SALT) currently visits school two days a week. Her role is to assess the communication needs of the students and to plan and advise staff and parents on implementing communication programmes. She also offers a limited number of speech therapy sessions and gives advice and guidance on eating and drinking skills, in conjunction with the Occupational Therapist.

The Communication Co-ordinator and Speech and Language Therapist deliver workshops for staff and parents.


Communication Strategies Adopted at Ashmount

 Body signs

  • A hand-under-hand approach is adopted here at Ashmount.
  •  Students with complex needs are constantly being touched, turned, handled and placed in a variety of positions.
  • Touch is an important aid in helping the student’s understand ‘what is’ and ‘what will’ be happening to them.
  • Before any change in circumstances students should be prepared.
  • A body sign is an action with or on a student - usually to prepare them for a movement or an action e.g. being pushed in a wheelchair, being prepared for eating or a sensory activity.
  • Always prepare a student by using their name first.  Body signing will involve limited touching of the learner's shoulders, arms and hands.


Object of reference (OOR)

This could be a sight, smell, taste, sound or an object which is presented consistently by an adult to a student to represent an idea, e.g. a cup to represent a drink; a fibre optic to represent the multi-sensory room.


Music / Song Cues

 This may be a short piece of music or a song to denote a key time in the day or to represent a particular session.


Intensive Interaction

Promotes social and communicative responses for students operating at the very earliest stages of communication. It emulates the model of early interaction between care giver and infant, when the very first stages of communication develop from pre-intentional to intentional. It hinges on the adult responding in a way that is immediate and obvious for the student.



  •  Setting up clear routines and structures to the day enable students to develop skills which may lead to effective communication.
  • Students learn through familiarity.
  • Routines help students anticipate, provide emotional security. Help in developing relationships and provide a structure for the day.


Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)

  • This is a means of providing communication to pupils who have no speech at all (alternative) or to support pupils who have very unclear speech (augmentative).
  • This incorporates a wide range of techniques - including the use of Makaton signs, symbols or pictures.
  • It also refers to the structured use of eye pointing, communication books, use of switches and the use of speech output devices(SOD)
  • Many of the students will use a combination of different methods.



  • Research shows that signs/gestures are easier to learn than spoken words (think about how a baby uses gestures before they can speak).
  • Makaton is taken directly from British Sign Language. It was developed in the 1970s to help people with learning difficulties to communicate. 
  • Makaton is always accompanied by speech. Makaton is an aid to learning speech and not a replacement. It is a structured language programme
  • Symbols were introduced in 1985 to give extra scope to the vocabulary. A symbol is a simple drawing which shows the meaning of the word. Symbols are used when a child has difficulty with hand movements, making signs inaccurate or impossible. Symbols are also used to support in the development of reading and language skills.


Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

  • This system is based on the use of picture cards to encourage expressive communication.
  • It was initially devised to be used with children with ASD (Autistic spectrum disorder) but is can be useful for others as well.
  • The focus is on the student initiating communication.


Lego Therapy

  • Is a social development programme for children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder).
  • This is a collaborative play therapy in which children work together to build Lego models.  This requires joint attention, shared goals, verbal communication and mutual purpose.


Language Groups

Five target groups where focussed intervention is directed towards communication and language development:

  • Pupils whose communication remains either perlocutionary, pre-intervention level or emerging at illocutionary stage.
  • Pupils whose receptive abilities are perceived to be a comparative stage and lack vocalisations.
  • Pupils who use VOCA (voice output device).
  • Pupils for whom signing is a central means of communication.
  • Pupils who have begun spoken language.