How can we provide communication support for students with more complex learning needs?

Verbal communication, for those with more complex educational needs, can be extremely difficult. The term ‘complex communication needs’ refers to those who struggle to communicate in situations by means of speech alone. This can be for a whole host of reasons, for example: autism, hearing impairment, speech impairment, language barriers or emotional barriers. Although communication barriers can be difficult, there are many different ways to support students.


Visual charts can provide assistance in communicating with those with more complex needs. For example, visual morning routines or daily timetables. Getting students to complete a visual of their morning routine/day allows them to visualise what their day will look like, as opposed to having to try and verbally communicate this with them. Students will also be able to refer to this throughout the day, this will hopefully minimise disruption as the student may feel more in control of their day. It provides them with structure and routine which, in turn, can avoid feelings of anger or frustration for the student.

In addition to this, visual charts can be used to express emotions. Particularly negative emotions when verbal communication is more challenging. Visual emotion charts can allow students to quickly and effectively convey how they are feeling during a time when verbalising would be difficult. Meaning that the adult is able to understand the emotions the student is feeling and can help to diffuse the situation before they escalate.

In a similar way, visual charts can help a student resolve their emotions and negative situations. This enables them to manage their feelings and situations that they find themselves in effectively, providing a sense of independence as they are not being told how to behave or respond, and allowing them to feel in control in the future as they know where to look in order to find strategies to help them cope.


The use of ICT and technology is also an important method for making communication, between the educator and student, more manageable. Electronic materials are far more easily adapted into accessible resources (Waddell, 2000). One way this can be achieved, is through the use of video, symbols or image alongside text in order to develop the student’s literacy skills (BECTA, 2013). Through my teaching, I use a range of resources in order to effectively support those with additional needs – including images of settings/characters with a bank of words for students to appropriately identify words that match up with the setting, encouraging not only literacy skills but the independence of the learner as they have to correctly obtain the right information.

The use of ICT and electronics has many benefits for students including: allowing them to accomplish tasks at their own pace (ACE Centre Advisory Trust, 1999). In addition to this, increased confidence in ICT motivates students to use the internet at home for school work (Waddell, 2000) as they feel more secure and assured that they are able to complete tasks effectively by themselves.

WADDELL, L., 2000. The pilot internet project: evaluation report. RNIB.

ACE CENTRE ADVISORY TRUST, 1999. Catchnet: the use of telecommunications technology to provide remote support and training to young people with access difficulties. ACE Centre Advisory Trust. catchreport.doc

BECTA (2013) What the research says about ICT supporting special educational needs (SEN) and inclusion. Available at:

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