Small Children: Giant Voices is an initiative that gives children with communication difficulties the power to be heard. It uses visual aids and staff interventions as a way of breaking down communication and language barriers that stand in the way of learning and well-being. It addresses the dangers of children becoming trapped in cycles of frustration, unable to form friendships or express their needs and emotions. Instead it gives them the tools to meet their potential.
With 12 out of 57 children at Dandelion’s Marsham site presenting with characteristics linked to ASD, ADHD or delayed communication and language, Giant Voices has been key to creating an environment in which all children can flourish.
Dandelion found that without language, a child wanting to climb a tree, say ‘no thank you’ or tell others what Jack should do at the top of the beanstalk becomes frustrated and their behaviour becomes their language. To address this, all staff wear emotion cards. Children have quickly learnt to find the card that expresses how they feel. Rather than screaming in frustration, they use the card to communicate. The adult, or a peer, then follows the Dandelion script and says, ‘How can I help you?’
Staff have also been trained to be the children’s thesaurus. Rich language is modelled and synonyms are continuously offered. During ‘Brunch story time’, staff retell or read the same story every day for two weeks. Synonyms, such as in ‘Jack’s mum was disheartened, disappointed or despondent’, are repeated, allowing children to become immersed in the text.
Lunchtime philosophy sessions are a strategy that encourage children to participate in sophisticated conversations. The table is set with a tablecloth, and teachers sit with them. The ‘philosophy fairy’ asks an open question and all children have the chance to speak, if they wish, in a non-judgemental space. They learn to understand that opinions differ but everyone can still be friends.
For children unable to speak, Dandelion has developed communication cards with pictures and words. These are designed to meet children’s needs with sentences such as ‘I need to go to the toilet’, ‘I can get down from the table’ or ‘No thank you, I can do it independently’. The assumption is always that a non-verbal child has the same needs as verbal children, with unlimited potential.
Since embedding its approach to language during the past three years, Dandelion’s ‘Every child a talker’ assessments highlight that children’s use of expressive language and social communication has improved. A local feeder school, in an area of deprivation, has testified to children having ‘significantly higher levels of communication and language than older siblings, and other children in the cohort’. Dandelion has also noted a significant reduction in behaviour-related incidents, with children using a script to resolve conflicts independently.
One parent says, ‘The care taken to build emotional intelligence and emphasise kind and respectful behaviour helps enormously with my daughter’s social and communication skills, all without her really being aware of it or made to feel different at all.’
"Our daughter felt very good about being encouraged to make her voice heard and telling the other children how she felt, in a safe, contained environment" — parent
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Open to services or projects that promote equality of opportunity and the best outcomes for children, regardless of ethnic origin, special needs, background or disadvantage