Supporting children with communication difficulties in mainstream classes

Contact: Neil Thompson

For immediate release: 27th May 2020

Selected mainstream schools will have the opportunity to get free support in using communication symbols with children with communication and learning difficulties in class.

We are conducting a short survey to look at the range of general strategies that mainstream teachers use to support children who struggle to access lessons. These include children with communication, learning or literacy difficulties.

Specialist teachers and speech and language therapists often recommend using visuals to support these children, and recent research backs up this recommendation (1). However it is often difficult for teachers to use this strategy effectively in practice. We are particularly keen to find out about teachers’ use of communication symbols and what barriers lie in the way of their use.

Following on from the survey we hope to offer selected mainstream schools free support and software for using symbols in a way that can be easily and painlessly integrated into existing lesson planning and delivery.

Fill in the survey:

More information about the proposed project:

Background information

  • The incidence of special educational needs amongst children across the UK is around 15% (2) (3) (4).
  • A typical classroom will have 3-4 children with a known special need which in many cases will impact on reading and/or communication.
  • Accessing lessons through text for these children will be difficult and can lead to disengagement from lessons.
  • As children return to school after months at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be even more important that strong supports are in place to help them with the new routine – communication symbols can play a key role in strengthening this support.
  • About communication symbols:

Commtap CIC

Commtap CIC is a not for profit company which supports those who support children and adults with communication difficulties.

It does this through:



1. Evidence for the effectiveness of visual supports in helping children with disabilities access the mainstream primary school curriculum. Foster-Cohen, Susan and Mirfin-Veitch, Brigit. 2, s.l. : NASEN, 2017, Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, Vol. 17, pp. 79-86.

2. UK Government. National Statistics Special educational needs in England: January 2018. GOV.UK. [Online] 8 August 2018. [Cited: 3 July 2019.]

3. Scottish Government. School Pupil Census 2013. STATISTICS.GOV.SCOT. [Online] 2013. [Cited: 03 07 2019.]

4. Wales Government. Special educational needs. StatsWales. [Online] 2016. [Cited: 3 July 2019.]

Commtap Symbols in Schools Project

We are looking for schools who would be interested in taking part in an exciting project exploring the use of communication symbols in mainstream schools.

Are you interested in (or concerned about) any of the following?

  • Being more easily able to differentiate lessons to include children with communication and/or learning difficulties.
  • Being more easily able to communicate the schedule and routines for all children in the class.
  • Having worksheets that work for both more and less able children in a class.
  • Easing children’s frustrations or anxieties from not knowing what to do/what’s going on.

What we can offer:

  • A method for easily adding communication symbols to lesson materials created in PowerPoint (a free subscription for one year to the Commtap Symboliser for PowerPoint for as many staff as would like to use it).
  • Free training/support for your staff in using communication symbols in school.
  • Working with your school to work out what is and isn’t practical for you in terms of communication symbol use.
  • Working with your IT department to help get things set up in a way that best suits your school.

What we would like from you:

  • Feedback about what is and isn’t helpful in terms of communication symbol use.
  • How practical it is using communication symbols.
  • If and how children have benefitted from the use of communication symbols.

Who we are:

Commtap CIC is a not for profit organisation which is a member of the Communication Consortium ( It was formed in 2005 by a group of specialist teachers and speech and language therapists. It provides a free website for sharing ideas for supporting children with communication difficulties and software to assist in this process (

Complete the survey

Fill in this short survey to let us know your views on strategies for supporting children with communication and learning difficulties including using communication symbols.

Register your interest

If you or your school are interested in participating in this project or if you would just like to find out more, please contact Neil.

Downloading and using a symbol set to use with the Commtap Symboliser in PowerPoint

If you are using the Commtap Symboliser for PowerPoint, to get the full benefit you will need to add at least one symbol set.

As an example, I will show you how to download and use the large and free Arasaac symbol set.

Follow on in the video above, or follow the steps below:

  1. In the Commtap Symboliser group, click on “Preferences”.
  2. In the box, click on “Get more symbols”. This takes you to the “Symbol Sets” page on the Commtap Symboliser website.
  3. Scroll down to “Arasaac Symbols” and  click on the link to get it from the Commtap resources website. You can also download it from Arasaac – but this version includes more words. The symbol set can be used for non-commercial purposes.
  4. Scroll down and click on download.
  5. Choose to save the file. This may take a few minutes.
  6. Find the file you downloaded. Right click on it and choose “Extract all…” and then “Extract”. This will take a minute or two.
  7. Move the new folder called “Arasaac colour” (not the zip file) to somewhere safe on your computer.
  8. Go back to PowerPoint. In the Symboliser preferences box, click on “Create Word List from Folder”.
  9. Browse to the folder you just copied. Click on OK, and then on OK again: this tells PowerPoint where to find all the picture symbols in the set you just downloaded.
  10. Enable the new symbol list by clicking in the box next to its name. Close the preferences box.
  11. You can now symbolise words using the new symbol set.