Jemma Ive shares her experience of using SCERTS as a SEN teacher.
The SCERTS (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support) model can offer a brilliant framework for creating consistent approaches to help children and young people with autism make progress – ensuring that teachers, families and educational therapists are all working well together as a team.
It’s important to state that SCERTS does not exclude alternative educational approaches. In fact, its flexibility makes it compatible with a variety of SEN and autism-focused teaching practices.
I loved using SCERTS when I was teaching: as a child-centred approach that incorporates all goals and therapies, its framework always helped staff and families keep track of what they were working on. When so many targets and professionals are involved, it can be a great relief to create an easy-to-follow programme.
Take Student A, who came to me aged two, with a social worker, occupational therapist, speech and language specialist and paediatricians involved in their long-term care. The speech and language therapist wanted to see Student A start to use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and improve their swallowing reflex; the occupational therapist wanted us to work on motor skills including posture and balance; the parents wanted to target sleep, and create a tailored sleep schedule – and this was just a taster of the goals being made to support the child.
It would have been impossible to address everything everyday within the three hours that Student A spent in my care. But with SCERTS I could blend targets, and give a holistic approach that still gave space for Student A to be a child.
Of course, approaching any ‘new’ educational framework can be a daunting prospect – especially if you’re already overwhelmed with a sizeable workload, as the vast majority working in the sector currently are! With that in mind, I’ve condensed some key points and top tips for SCERTS below, to help give you a bite-sized breakdown.
Top tips for success with the SCERTS Model
• Ensure everyone in the student’s life is on board, from family to staff members;
• Set aside planning and team meeting time;
• Ensure all essential resources are made available to those involved;
• Adopt a child-centred approach that is manageable for home life too;
• Provide home support for the family;
• Invest in continued training for staff; and
• Most of all, keep working forward with consistency and dedication!
Social Communication involves the development of functional communication, the ability to express emotion, and the capacity to build trusting relationships with others.
The following are SCERTS’ sequential steps towards achieving effective Social Communication.
Joint attention – To lay effective foundations, first we must understand the reason WHY a child with autism initiates and responds to communication attempts and also understand their ability to share attention, emotion and intention with others.
At the social partner stage the pupil shifts their gaze between objects and people, engages in interaction with others and initiates games, routines or interactions.
At language partner stage, the pupil shares experiences, comments on events or actions and can use words to express their emotions.
At the conversation language partner stage, the pupil shares experiences in interactions, can understand and discuss past and future events and can comment on the attention of others in a group situation.
To lay effective foundations in this step, we must understand HOW a child with autism communicates with others and understand their ability to use objects, pictures, signs or words to represent meaning.
At the social partner stage, the pupil uses gestures and non-verbal means to communicate, imitates familiar actions and sounds and uses familiar objects conventionally in play.
At the language partner stage, the pupil uses a variety of objects in constructive play, uses words to express meaning and understands a variety of words and word combinations without contextual clues.
At the conversation language partner stage, the pupil learns by imitation, observation, instruction and collaboration, understands nonverbal cues of turn-taking and topic change and follows the rules of conversation.
Emotional Regulation (ER) is the ability to build and maintain a well-regulated emotional state, and to be able to cope with everyday changes and stress. Without ER, children and young people with autism would not be fully available for learning. During this phase of the model, the aim is to inspire both mutual and self-regulation.
It is important to note that all attention seeking is good, as it shows an intent to communicate! As educators, our role is to teach more appropriate ways to regulate and seek that support.
With self-regulation self-soothing behaviours can often be immature due to a limited ability to learn from others.
With mutual regulation the ability to accept assistance from others is limited due to difficulty predicting others’ intentions and the ability to gain assistance from others may be misperceived.
With behavioural strategies, language strategies and full planning on how to approach a learning task, we can help every student become emotionally regulated.
Transactional Support is the development and implementation of support to: help partners respond to a child’s needs and interests; modify and adapt to their environment; provide tools that enhance learning, for example picture communication, written schedules, and sensory support.
In this phase of SCERTS, specific plans are also developed to provide educational and emotional support to families, and to foster teamwork among professionals using interpersonal and learning support.
With interpersonal support we apply support through communicative partners, making adjustments in language use, emotional expression, and interactive styles. Our aim is to find supports that are effective in helping the student process language, participate in social interaction, experience social activities as emotionally satisfying, and maintain a well-regulated state.
With learning supports we consider factors such as environmental changes, or other ways activities are set up/modified to foster social communication and emotional regulation. There may include visual supports, curriculum modifications, etc. It is always important to share the areas that are working with families and other professionals. This ensures these successful approaches are also implemented within the home environment.
Why SCERTS is worth a shot
New models can feel overwhelming when there is already so much to think of and incorporate, but ultimately SCERTS may give you more of a sense of control over what can otherwise be an extremely difficult balancing act.
Not using SCERTS yet? Feeling curious? My advice is to give it a try. Once the model is engrained it works so well. And don’t forget to check out the SCERTS website too: there’s lots of advice and resources there to explore.