“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that really matter” ~ Martin Luther King Jr

Being able to communicate effectively is an important part of the schooling experience. Students are required to interact with curriculum materials and the teaching/learning process, and engage collaboratively and socially with adults and peers.

The ways in which students communicate generally, and for different purposes and in different environments and settings is naturally diverse. As humans, we communicate in a variety of different ways, and will often use more than one means at a time. We will also subconsciously (and consciously) change the ways in which we communicate and interact depending on the situation and the people present.

The way in which a student communicates can be further impacted by disability and neurodiversity. Such factors may affect how they hear, talk, see, comprehend, interpret, process, read, write, sign, gesture and indicate. Some students may also preference a particular mode of communication.

The complex, dynamic and busy school environment is often a barrier and main contributor to the communication impacts experienced by a student. The school environment is largely designed on the assumption that students are proficient in oral receptive and expressive language, and are verbal communicators. However, research and our ever increasing awareness of student diversity informs us that maintaining the status quo of communication and interaction in schools is no longer responsive and supportive for the broad student population.

Therefore, it is important for teachers to be aware of and utilise inclusive communication techniques universally, and more specifically. A student’s ability to effectively demonstrate what they know and are able to do can be restricted by communication. Teachers can easily mistake and/or make assumptions that a lack of demonstration is a lack of ability. However, a communication barrier (both receptive and expressive), may be limiting the student’s true potential.

To value and support the different ways a student may communicate to understand and make choices, express feelings and needs, and participate in the experiences around them, it is recommended that a multi-modal approach is adopted generally. That is, presenting information in and via a variety of modes:

Engaging with a Communication Matrix is valuable tool that can be used to understand the status, progress and unique ways in which a student communicates:

Communication Matrix

The Literacy General Capability continuum (Australian Curriculum) is also an important tool when supporting students to interact with the curriculum:

Literacy General Capability

The Literacy Learning Progressions (Australian Curriculum) provide developmental sequences for the acquisition of speaking and listening:

Literacy Learning Progressions

Some students may communicate via a specific mode and/or utilise Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC) – an umbrella term that encompasses communication methods used to supplement or replace speech and writing (low tech and high tech):

For support with both universal and specific modes of communication that support the inclusion of all students in the regular curriculum and general classroom, we recommend that you consult and collaborate with a Speech/Language Pathologist.

We also recommend the following links for more information on inclusive communication:

Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder

PrAACtical AAC

The Hanen Centre

Speech Pathology Australia