accessibility icon

Paving the Way

Early intervention for children with learning disabilities whose behaviours challenge

Development of communication skills


erin and sarah

The Bridge School is a community special school and nursery, for children and young people aged 2-16 with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).
Enabling each child to communicate is fundamental to the school’s success in improving behaviour.

How does it work?

When children join the nursery, the first task is to identify if any mode of communication has been established, with a home visit to observe the child and parents together and to learn from the parents. They explore each child’s strengths, what they enjoy and what motivates them.

A speech and language therapist (SLT) is on site two days a week, who helps to tailor the best means of communication for each child using, for example, PECs, Makaton, touchscreens (available in all classrooms) and switches.

The school makes extensive use of PECs (Picture Exchange Communication System) and all staff are trained in this. PECs symbols and photos are shared with parents and PECs awareness training is offered to parents and local settings with children on dual placements.

Outreach is provided where children are on dual placements and local staff can visit to observe practice. Specialist advice is also provided on request to other local schools and settings.

The school has helped my son get to where he is today. He is now using some words, he has learnt to swim (and…) life skills like feeding himself, behaviour skills and to be independent.


High expectations

Much emphasis is placed on establishing high expectations, appropriate to each child. Individual workstations, free from distractions, are used to encourage children to sit still and concentrate on a task by themselves.

A structured learning environment is provided based on ASD-friendly Teacch principles with designated areas for different activities and visual prompts about what happens next.

Success factors

  • A strong focus on communication as fundamental to ‘unlocking’ challenging behaviour.
  • High, appropriate expectations for young people’s learning and development.
  • A clear approach to behaviour development, actively supported by the Senior Management Team.
  • Dedicated SLT time and a strong relationship with the hospital ASD team, nearby.

Leadership of the early years, in partnership with speech therapists, enables a significant number of children to be successfully re-integrated to mainstream school, equipped with communication and behaviour management skills to succeed.

Ofsted inspection report, February 2015 (Overall rating: Good)


  • Long waiting lists for some specialist services, in particular SLT for pre-school children, input from the Nursing Disability Team and CAMHS.
  • Local authority budget cuts mean that specialist advice to early years settings is by request only. This means opportunities for early intervention are being missed. In particular, skills and awareness around ASD need to be improved in local settings.
  • Funding for outreach has been cut, but the school continues to allocate staff time for this.

Ofsted inspection report- download from Ofsted, February 2015
For more information about PECS you can visit Communication Matters..

For a advice on how to support a child or young person with no or limited speech download Other Ways of Speaking guide

Read Laura’s story to find out more about communication.