Total communication: sharing ideas and innovations

12 July 2018

Delegates trying out experiential art

Tune in fully to the child and where they’re at. Less is more.

These were the take-out messages of the Total Communication Seminar we held on Friday 6 July 2018.

Education and health professionals came to CPotential and Woodstar School to hear about a range of exciting approaches to support children achieve their potential in speech, language and communication.


How Intensive Interaction works

Dave Hewett

Our keynote speaker, Dave Hewett, the leading exponent of Intensive Interaction, told us about the development, principles and practices of this approach.

He explained that he and his team developed it from academic research into how babies and young children are hardwired to learn the  ‘fundamentals of communication’, including enjoying being with another person, taking turns, using and understanding eye contact and facial expression, and using their voice.

Dave also presented a series of videos showing how the Intensive Interactive practitioner works with children who have not gained these skills and may be ‘difficult to reach’. The teacher ‘listens’ with all their senses to totally tune into the child and their world so that, gradually, the child gains more communication skills. The difference it can make for both the child and their family’s quality of life was very impressive.


Communication aids

Kathryn Stowell


Kathryn Stowell, Head of Outreach and Augmentative & Alternative Communication at CENMAC, presented an overview of the wide range of interactive hi-tech communication aids (including switches, apps and eye gaze software) now available. She also explained how CENMAC loans aids to schools to support individual children’s development and assists school teams with assessment and support for their pupils.


Behaviour as communication, Lego therapy and experiential art

Kerri Morgan


In her presentation about behaviour as communication, Kerri Morgan, Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist at Woodstar School, gave tips on how people working with disabled children should tailor their own behaviour carefully to meet to the needs of each child.


Then Kerri explained how Lego Therapy can be used to encourage children to learn and develop a range of communication skills such as  attention, expressive language and working memory while having fun making a simple Lego model together.


Delegates trying out experiential art

Finally, Woodstar School specialist teaching assistant Anne Onwusiri gave a presentation about how experiential art gives children, especially those who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, the opportunity to use art and craft materials to express themselves and their personalities.  “There’s no right or wrong answer,” Anne said, “It’s all about the experience of doing.”

This was seconded by the delegates who all had a go at the two activities.


  • We plan to run more seminars to share expertise with education and health professionals in the 2018-19 academic year. If you’d like to register your interest, please email us.

Supporting children to flourish

28 June 2018

The Link magazine front cover

Kerri Morgan, our Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, offers some tips to help teachers support children with cerebral palsy flourish in the classroom and beyond.

This article first appeared in The Link magazine, issue 11 June 2018, published by Speech Link Multimedia Ltd


Whenever I talk to professional colleagues about my work I start with the following quote from the late American psychologist Carl Rogers, “If I accept the other person as something fixed, already diagnosed and classified, already shaped by his past, then I am doing my part to confirm this limited hypothesis. If I accept him as a process of becoming, then I am doing what I can to confirm or make real his potentialities”.

Cerebral palsy is a diagnosis but a broad one with each child presenting in a unique way. If there’s  one tip I can give you about helping a child with cerebral palsy in your classroom, it’s to believe in their potential.


But how can you help them achieve it?

Firstly, it’s important to note that children with cerebral palsy rarely have just a movement disorder. They may have a multitude of things impacting on their day:  sensory impairments or processing difficulties, pain, insomnia, epilepsy, learning difficulties, speech, language and communication needs and, above all, their own personality and past experiences.

So it’s vitally important that we as school staff take the time not only to find out what these factors are in detail but also to really learn to appreciate what they mean for the child. To ask ourselves how do they see the world?

Imagine: if you have difficulty with balance and coordination and you’re surrounded by 29 other children running around, then a PE lesson can be daunting. Couple that with difficulty understanding instructions and the lesson starts to feel like quite a frightening place.

That’s not to say that a child with cerebral palsy shouldn’t be in a PE lesson, they absolutely should; it is we who need to adapt, to take their needs into consideration and, at the very least, acknowledge how the world feels for that child.

The same rule applies when it comes to social skills. The majority of children with cerebral palsy will have spent much of their early life in in hospital, attending appointments, interacting with lots of adults but very rarely experiencing friendships with children their own age. Quite literally, if they use a wheelchair or walker they may not be able to get physically close to other children.


Breaking down isolation

Part of the reason children with cerebral palsy feel isolated is that for the other children, there’s an air of mystery that surrounds disability. This may well be the first time many children in your class have encountered someone with a disability and it’s important that you address that in the following ways:


Demystify and debunk

Let your class know what cerebral palsy is. There are lots of helpful books out there such as  Ceana Has CP by C. Fran Card or Taking Cerebral Palsy to School by Mary Elizabeth Anderson but, more than this, let your class know specifically what their classmate finds difficult and most importantly what they don’t. If their speech is affected but they are able to understand, make sure your class know the difference.

Normalise it

There are 7 billion types of normal in this world. Make sure your class know that they are all different – they all have strengths and weaknesses. Provide a diverse set of role models when teaching and remember: not all people with cerebral palsy dream of being a Paralympian. There are so many successful people with cerebral palsy in all arenas. Books such as Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls books 1 and 2 by Elena Favilli showcase this beautifully. Comedians Rosie Jones and the Britain’s Got Talent winner Lee Ridley AKA ‘Lost Voice Guy’ are also excellent examples of fantastic, articulate and successful people with cerebral palsy whom all the children can enjoy watching.


Be inclusive

In the same vein, ensure you educate yourself and take a proactive approach to inclusion. When planning make sure your disabled pupil’s needs are forefront rather than an add on. If, for example, they can’t get out of their chair on the floor, consider: does the rest of the class need to sit on the floor that day? If you need to differentiate the worksheet, hand it out at the same time as the others, put the adapted scissors in the same draw and expect them to get them just as you would the rest of your class.


Ask the experts

Know where to go for further information and advice. Talk to your local Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy services about access, software and equipment that may help your pupil get the most out of their learning. They may even be able to bring in examples or put you in touch with companies that can loan you equipment.

Remember a child with cerebral palsy doesn’t necessarily have a cognitive difficulty but they are likely to have a learning difficulty in that they are going to find it harder to take part physically which can impact their pace of learning.



Five top tips for lesson preparation

Here are 5 simple ways you can make things easier in the classroom:


  1. provide larger print worksheets or, if you are expecting the class to copy text from the board, this text may need to be closer to them, i.e. a copy on their desk
  2. provide a computer with predictive text to help record their work if writing is difficult – an occupational therapist can help adapt this if necessary
  3. break instructions down into smaller steps if you are expecting multiple things in a session. It may take your pupil longer to complete a task and so they may need something to help remind them of the next step like a visual cue card or recording they can play back. In this way they can still be as independent as possible
  4. give your pupil time. If you are asking the class questions and you know it the child a while to create an answer on their communication aid or plan what they want to say, don’t leave them out. Let them know you will be coming to them in a minute so they can get ready. And just be aware that a child with cerebral palsy may not always be able to put their hand up the quickest and make themselves known, don’t always choose the child with the fastest draw!
  5. Talk to us at CPotential. We can provide training packages tailored to your school’s needs that include areas such as differentiation, social skills, communication strategies and behaviour management.


Finally, research shows that children with cerebral palsy usually take part in fewer activities, find friendships harder to maintain and have reduced play skills. We owe it to them to facilitate these friendships. If we do, we’ll see them take more of an active role in the school day.

A great way to do this is by providing semi-structured opportunities such as clubs or groups. Perhaps with all the children, mixing and mingling on mats on the floor to increase a sense of togetherness. Make sure that you gradually strip back adult intervention so this becomes an empowering experience – no child wants a teacher hanging out with them in the playground or monitoring their conversations. Give the children the tools, then step back and watch them create something amazing.

Above all, I’d urge you to remember: every interaction with a child with cerebral palsy is an opportunity to help them reach their potential.





Total Communication Seminar

26 June 2018

Pupil with speech and language therapist

Boy with speech therapist

Join us for this stimulating Continuing Professional Development Seminar for education and healthcare professionals who work with children with speech, language or communication needs.

When: Friday 6 July 2018 from 1 – 4.30pm

Where: Woodstar School, 143 Coppetts Road, London N10 1JP

With Keynote Speaker:  Dave Hewett, Director of the Intensive Interaction Institute, who will talk about Intensive Interaction methods

Dave Hewett

Plus: presentations on Assistive Technology, Behaviour as Communication, Using Experiential Art and Lego therapies

And: an exhibition of leading assistive and inclusive IT aids for children with communication needs


Last places available! Book your ticket by Friday 29 June 2018


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