There are many positive changes to the communication environment which can be made to support the communication development of children with BSED, and some have already been outlined in Assessment 2.2 and 2.3.
Other positive changes may include using visual support in the form of picture cards, makaton signs or even pointing to objects when speaking. This gives further clarification to our speech and helps a child with communication difficulties understand what is being taught or requested of them, which in turn will prevent any confusion and misunderstanding which could lead to undesired behavior being displayed. To assist a child’s understanding of our instructions, we should also speak clearly and slowly, using simple age appropriate language in simple sentence structures.
Asking the child to reiterate what is being asked of them can help ensure they understand, although in some children they may not have the vocabulary to do this. With those children, we could demonstrate our request i.e. asking ‘please help tidy up’ can be reinforced by picking up blocks and putting them in the box and indicating for the child to assist. In older children using written and verbal language, we should again ensure they understand by reading through any signs or written documents with them, pointing out and explaining any key words and reiterating any importance. Similarly, storage for toys and equipment could be labeled with words and pictures, so each child knows where items belong when they need to be put away, and also where to find them if they need them.
Staff, including volunteers could offer regular one to one direct support to the child for their communication skills whether this is assistance with reading or phonics. This allows the child to learn in a quieter and less pressured environment and gives them extra precious time to potentially develop the skills which their peers already have. All staff should be given extra training and be made more aware of the difficulties that children with SLCN and BSED experience in order to offer extra support successfully.
As already mentioned, creating a calmer and quieter environment with fewer distractions can help most people concentrate better, but will work exceptionally well for a child who is already easily distracted due to their BSED. Minimal distractions allow the adult to spend more quality time supporting the child, making it easier to communicate as the child is more focused and therefore more receptive to learning.
In any environment there needs to be clear boundaries and rules, and these need to be made easy to understand and achieve for children of all ages and abilities. A consistent approach to dealing with conflicts regarding rules helps to avoid any misunderstanding for the child. As already mentioned, a child seeking attention will gain this in the way easiest to him or her, and if attention is usually only given following negative behavior, then this how the child is likely to behave. Positive encouragement and praise should be given as often and as emphasized as negative comments as this will help the child acknowledge that good behaviour is just as, if not more so rewarded than undesirable behaviour.
Unfortunately in society there is a stigma attached to people with SCLN and/or BSED, and a less than favourable opinion can be formed by a child when witnessing how an adult deals with a child’s behaviour. It is therefore imperative that we show no discrimination towards a child with SLCN or BSED, nor make them feel any different or inferior to their peers. All children can benefit from having information clarified and reiterated especially rules and boundaries, so this doesn’t need to be a direct communication just towards the child with extra needs. If a child is made to feel different than their peers in a classroom, they may react to this in a negative manner as it accentuates their extra needs and draws attention to them which may be unwanted.
Their reactions may be to become more withdrawn and show less pro-social skills, or to display disruptive or even aggressive behaviour in order to express their feelings of upset. A child with BSED and communication difficulties may not understand their work or what is required of them and we must encourage ways of the child asking for help, as well as us pro offering support. One way to do this within a classroom environment could be to use playing cards, with each pupil having a card each, and if they require help they can turn the card over on their desk, so only the teacher can see, avoiding drawing attention to themselves by having to put their hand up and request help and reducing any embarrassment they may feel.
Simple reward charts work well with most children but need to be realistic regarding expectations and consistent in recognizing achievements. This could be done as an overall class chart or individual charts for each child aimed at specific development areas. The school my 5 year old daughter attends uses a ‘traffic light’ system to acknowledge good and negative behaviour. All children begin with their name tag on green, however if negative behaviour is witnessed then they move to amber – if the behaviour improves, they move back to green, if it proceeds as negative behaviour then move to red. Each time a child moves to amber, they lose 5 minutes from their playtime, and if on red, they lose their ‘golden’ free play time on a Friday.
If the child is on green all week, they receive a treat on a Friday (usually a sweet, lollipop etc) and for those displaying exceptional hard work or efforts, a certificate of merit is given. The children respond well to this as their ‘punishment’ for negative behaviour is immediate (or as near as can be) so they quickly learn to display alternative behaviour. It is important to remember that a child with BSED may not recognize boundaries and the cause and effect of their behaviour or a reward scheme and therefore a tailored approach would be required. Teaching a child with BSED techniques on how to deal with their emotions before they reach a crisis point can help the child manage their behaviour and develop their emotional and social skills at the same time as their communication skills.
Ways of doing this could include teaching the child a way in which to communicate to their key worker or teacher that they require help or that they are angry or frustrated. This allows the key worker or teacher to support the child before the feelings escalate. Other ways may include helping the child to use a ‘time out’ facility whereby when the child is feeling anxious or angry, they go to a quiet corner until they feel calmer and someone can support them.
Using play or activities which the child has a specific interest in (or even using favourite toys or characters within the activity) will help the child maintain their interest and allow them further opportunities to interact, increasing their communication and social skills.
Finally, reiterating the day’s timeline can help children understand what is happening next or when certain activities will take place. Many young children have little concept of time, and for a child who is unsettled and finding it difficult to conform to the boundaries within the setting, it may help them feel more at ease and less anxious if they know what to expect next. The timeline could be repeated verbally or simple pictures could be displayed to show what activity will be happening soon i.e. lunchtime (a picture of a sandwich and drink), outdoor play (picture of trees and a ball) or home time (a picture of a coat).
Many different ways can be implemented but they may require a lot of time, and a great deal of extra effort from staff before a child begins to display any positive changes and this should be taken into account before deciding that a specific strategy appears to not be working.