Why Developing Child Voice in SEND is a safeguarding priorityWithout valuing their voice we will never create a shared world. #Communication Click To Tweet
it is essential you ensure child voice is a top priority in the inclusive classroom. You cannot overstate the importance of providing children with opportunities to demonstrate choices throughout their education. In early years education, this is acknowledged through EYFS documents (Early Years Foundation Stage). If you provide choices throughout the day you recognise a child’s right to be listened to (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child UNCRC).
Promoting children’s voices in school cannot happen without also providing choice and control. Self-advocacy and control are of equal importance in special education. You could say more so given the additional challenges children with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) face in being heard. Fortunately, there are now many resources available for promoting the voice of children with communication needs. However many of these rely on adults to provide the initial set up and access to them. This access can be withdrawn and controlled to an extent that should concern all those advocating for children with SEND.
I strongly believe in a voice for every child, every child should have access to a communication system. AAC users and non/pre-verbal, or those with significant expressive or receptive language needs need to be given a voice. Education should be centered around teaching skills that will lead to increasing their ability to self-advocate. This will only be done if the adults value the child’s voice and legitimise their communication style.
This is not a communication target, it is a safeguarding necessity.
Without an effective way to communicate how can a child raise concerns? How can they explain what happened? Often a child without a valued communication system must rely on their actions. It is easy to label these actions as challenging behaviour. Without a strong advocate and culture of skill teaching the restrictive practices may begin.
We as professionals, parents, carers, advocates must prioritise valuing the voice of the child. A child will only feel they have value if we prove we value what they have to say. Often a choice is one of the first elements of child voice addressed once the child can discriminate between objects or options.. For example, Which toy or activity do you want? PECS focuses on exchanging a picture for a motivating object. It may be a talking mat with likes and dislikes. This is just a start and we need to ensure they are provided with explicit teaching with the aim of allowing the child to share opinions, emotions, question and most importantly say “no”. Facilities to indicate/say/communicate “I don’t Like”, “Stop” and “No” should be available at all times.
Giving children a voice that we show them we value is a hugely effective way to promote self-esteem. Indeed without this how can we expect the child to want to engage with us? Have you ever heard of a child described as being in their own world? If so then we have not shown them we value their input into ours. Without valuing their voice we will never create a shared world. We can share space with them but for a true human connection, the child needs to know we want to enter their world and we prove this by listening to what they want to share.
How to recognise a setting that values a child’s voice.
- Symbols/Pictures included in all resources accessed by the child. These are very often Widgit software and allows support for pre-readers. These are essential in now and next or choice boards.
- Active listening. The adult will repeat back and clarify their interpretation of the child’s communication
- Motivators available. Having a box of stimulating items linked to children’s interests shows the child’s voice is being listened to and planned for.
- Posters/displays for children are accessible through simplified language, symbols, etc
- Accessible areas. Can the child access toilets etc without having to rely on an adult?
- The value of independence is evident.
- Learning journals or home school books filled in with the child and not removed from them if they want to see what has been written.
- PECS books or communication boards accessible and visible to the child at all times. These should never be tidied away or just used for snack time!
- Choice boards and other AAC ways for children to choose what they want for snack or lunch.
- Honor interaction styles, no forced eye contact no demands for a child to “use their words” when stressed.
- Investment in technology such as eye gaze that is set up, works and accessible.