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Adapting the environment - Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Specific adaptations may be needed to support children with SEND. Table 1 highlights some adaptations and resources that could be considered. This list is not exhaustive and some other areas of need may require similar adaptations.

The process of settling a child into a setting should be started at least six weeks before they are due to begin. For children eligible for funding the process should be started the term after they turn two.

Visual Impairments Hearing Impairment Autistic Spectrum Disorder Physical Disability Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs

Visual Impairments

Resources that may be required

  • Label items with large letters and pictures.
  • Enlarged name card with accompanying picture.
  • Scented pens for writing.
  • Use tactile labels in addition to print.
  • Special texture labels outside room door, on furniture in preschool room, etc.
  • Access to real objects rather than replicas.
  • Place sound-making objects, for example clocks, wind chimes, radio and place them in different parts of the setting to help them learn their way around.
  • Choose toys and materials in contrasting colours.
  • Label toy boxes by taping one piece of the toy onto the boxes. These labels will make it easier for children to return toys during tidying times.
  • Electronic "talking books" or books recorded on tape or CD.
  • Use of tactile learning opportunities which could include toys and books with raised numerals, letters, or designs that children can touch and explore.
  • Follow up read-aloud stories with concrete experiences.
  • Use markings on items for easier identification.

Adaptations that may be needed

  • Clearly defined areas of play.
  • Round-edged furniture.
  • Safe and evenly surfaced play area with wheeled toys restricted to an area of the setting.
  • Several pre-visits to allow for the development of an inner map of the room.
  • Adapt lighting to help children see well.
  • Keep doors and cabinets closed so children do not trip over them.
  • Keep space organised so children can find things easily. Place toys and materials in the same place every day.
  • Help children use textures such as tile, carpet, wood, glass windows, plastered walls and marble counter tops to locate different areas of the building.
  • Set up specific areas for play activities and routines. Help children become familiar with room arrangements, and try not to change it often.
  • Teach other children how to interact with children who have visual disabilities for example using the name of toys when asking the child to play.
  • Encourage children to build with blocks horizontally. Children with visual disabilities can feel shapes and lay blocks end-to-end or in different patterns without the frustration of falling blocks.

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Hearing Impairment

Resources that may be required

  • Label shelves with a picture of toys to make tidying time easier. Use pictures to show hand washing steps or steps of an activity.
  • Provide sound systems for the child to listen to stories and music at a higher volume.
  • Use stories, songs and finger play to increase language skills. Read the same stories regularly on a particular day and encourage children to join in refrains or repeated lines. Practice favourite rhymes and songs regularly on a particular day to encourage confidence and improve learning.
  • Face the child when talking or signing to them so that they can see lip patterns to support their understanding.

Adaptations that may be needed

  • Absorb sound. Use carpets, drapes, pillows and other soft material to absorb excess sound. Avoid hard floors or break them up with rugs.
  • Cut down on background noise. Turn off music and choose a quiet place for activities that require the child with a hearing disability to listen and communicate.
  • Teach children how to interact with children with hearing disabilities. This may involve showing them how to use gestures/signs along with language to communicate. It may also involve showing children where to stand when communicating with a child with a hearing impairment and teaching children to look at the child when they are talking. Encourage children to find creative ways to play with the child with a hearing disability.
  • Use gesture and sign when communicating, which may involve key word signing, depending on the general learning needs of the child.
  • British Sign Language training may be needed for staff. They offer an introduction to some signs on their site: www.britishsignlanguage.com

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Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Resources that may be required

  • Visual timetable.
  • What are we doing now and what are we doing next cards.
  • Sensory circuit/area.
  • Visual prompts to engage the child in making choices – photographs, symbols, objects of reference depending on their general level of ability.
  • Social stories written in relation to the child’s level of understanding.
  • Box of toys that are motivating to gain the child’s attention.
  • Timers to enable the child to understand what waiting means.

Adaptations that may be needed

  • Set up regular schedules and routines, and follow them consistently.
  • Set up a quiet area without distractions for one-to-one work with an adult.
  • Announce tidy-up time and other transitions ahead of time. Giving children a "warning" prepares them that they will need to finish their current activity soon. This could be through a song, music, gesture or photographs.

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Physical Disability

Resources that may be required

  • Equipment: Hoist, standing frame, adapted chair, adapted toilet/changing facilities.
  • Larger handled puzzles.
  • Heavy, stable furniture and equipment that cannot be easily knocked over.
  • Provide tools that children with motor disabilities can use for grasping, holding, transferring and releasing.
  • Provide materials of different textures - such as play dough, fabric swatches, ribbon, corrugated cardboard and sandpaper -- to stimulate the sense of touch.
  • Add tabs to books for turning pages.
  • Use pencil grips on crayons and markers to make them easier to grip.
  • Secure paint brushes into a glove, or provide paint brushes with large knobs on the ends.
  • A range of different types of scissors such as those that open automatically when squeezed, or scissors that do not require children to use finger holes and those that have holes for an adult to use alongside the child.
  • Spray bottles to practise the squeezing motion which simulates using scissors.

Adaptations that may be needed

  • Allowing space between furniture and activities for walkers and wheelchair access and those children who crawl.
  • Provide a safe place for walkers and wheelchairs so other children do not trip over them.
  • Remove rugs that can be tripped over, or tape them down.
  • Make it easy to move around in play areas.
  • Work with parents/carers to find comfortable ways for a child to sit. A corner with two walls for support, space for a chair if posture needs supporting, or a mobile chair with a large tray across the arms are three possibilities that may
  • help children with certain physical disabilities participate more fully in child care activities.
  • Ramps, lifts, access to a hoist for transfers.
  • Make objects more steady. For example, use Dycem matting to secure paper, mixing bowls or wood blocks to the table or floor so they remain in place as the child paints, draws, stirs or hammers.
  • Be sure activity areas are well-lighted. Add lamps if needed.
  • Teach other children how to offer help respectfully and find creative ways to include a child with a disability – e.g. completing a puzzle at a table to allow a child in a wheelchair to participate.
  • Keep items contained. Roll a ball inside a hoop placed on the floor.
  • An area that can be used if a child requires tube-feeding where the child can socialise with peers during this time. Staff need training in tube-feeding (contact the child’s community nurse).

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Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties

Resources that may be required

  • Visual timetables.
  • Visual prompts to engage the child in making choices such as photographs, symbols, objects of reference.
  • Boxes of toys and equipment labelled with words and pictures depicting the content.
  • Role play opportunities.
  • Access to story boxes.
  • Learning through song.

Adaptations that may be needed

  • Establish ‘talking time’ when the child practises specific language skills.

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Social, emotional and mental health needs

Resources that may be required

  • Emotion cards.
  • Timers.
  • Order photos of different daily activities (indoor play, tidy-up, snack time, etc.) Encourage children to check the pictures so they will know what comes next.
  • Teach children problem-solving skills. Help them to identify the problem, consider possible solutions, choose the best solution, and test it out. These steps can be used both for individual problems and for problems with other children.
  • Provide a quiet space for times when a child needs a break from other children or activities.
  • Photographs of the child completing expected behaviour as visual reminders.

Adaptations that may be needed

  • Set up regular schedules and routines, and follow them consistently.
  • Offer an appropriate number of toys and materials. Children need choices, but too much "stuff" may overwhelm them. Avoid giving children too many toys or activities to choose from.
  • Announce tidy-up time and other transitions ahead of time. Giving children a "warning" prepares them that they will need to finish their current activity soon.
  • Watch for behaviour patterns. Watch for periods when children are calmer and in control. Use these times to present a new activity.
  • Some children may find it difficult to know how to cope within non-structured time. It will therefore be important to avoid times where children are waiting for the next activity. Be sure the next activity is set up before you begin the transition. Fill waiting periods with activities such as songs and guessing games to keep the children engaged. Assign a specific task to the child during the transition.
  • Capitalise on the child’s interests.
  • Keep stories and group activities short to match attention spans. Seat the child near you and away from distractions such as nearby toys/equipment.

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