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Empowering People, Launching lives

Accessibility for learning

Author: Matthew Le Blanc, Head of Park House School and Carrie Caceres-Taguiang, Behaviour Analyst


13th February 2023 | 3 mins read

The number of pupils with special educational needs in England increased to 1.49 million in 2022¹. That’s 16.5% of school-aged children who require additional support or reasonable adjustments to access education.

Every child has the right to an education which supports them to achieve a life full of choice and opportunity. We’re going to take a look at the importance of planning and modifying the environment in order to make learning accessible for all. Moreover, how behaviour analysis, and more precisely pairing, can help you achieve this.

Using an interdisciplinary approach with input from behaviour analysts, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and teachers, we can make modifications so that the environment and subsequently, teaching and learning is readily accessible for our autistic pupils.


Assessing the learner

Before looking at any modifications it is important to conduct a thorough assessment. The purpose of this is to look at the environment and work out what adjustments the learner will need. An assessment should cover:

  • Play and social skills
  • Academic skills
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Self-help and daily living skills
  • Barriers to learning e.g. behaviours perceived to challenge, mobility difficulties
  • Sensory and physical needs
  • Communication and interaction needs

By gathering the information above, we can implement individualised education plans for autistic pupils. We can then identify the environmental supports and strategies that are necessary for our pupils to access the teaching and learning.


Modifying the teaching and the environment

In understanding that each autistic individual has differing needs, we can modify the environment to suit each learner. Examples can include but are not limited to having visuals and timetables, having a bespoke curriculum or resources like chewies, weighted vests or even 2:1 staffing. At BeyondAutism Schools we use the following approaches to ensure that each individual can access learning in a way that works for them.

  • Pupils have individualised education plans – with a mixture of 1:1, group and natural environment teaching
  • With support from an occupational therapist, pupils trial strategies and equipment as part of a sensory diet. This forms a personal toolkit to help them manage and regulate in their learning environment
  • Working with a speech and language therapist, pupils trial a range of adapted communication methods including picture exchange communication systems (PECS), sign language, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. Finding the right communication method for a learner is so important in creating an accessible environment
  • All staff interacting with the pupils receive training on how to use the communication methods
  • Staff are trained in how to make the environment and learning more accessible. They do this by breaking down complex tasks into smaller steps to make them more achievable
  • Staff are trained in which behaviours to reinforce and how to implement reinforcement schedules
  • Learning is differentiated and extended according to each pupil’s abilities. Find out more in our recent Lunch and Learn webinar which goes into greater depth about adapted curriculums


Pairing the environment

None of the above can be achieved without pairing. Pairing is a way of associating a person, items or environments with positive experiences. At its core, it’s about making yourself a fun person for the learner to be around: someone who they feel safe with and happy to learn from.

Building motivation in a pupil is so important in creating an accessible learning environment. By finding a learner’s motivation, you can use that to adapt your teaching, make learning fun, and ensure that the pupil stays engaged.

To find out more about pairing, take a look at our Introduction to behaviour analysis course.


It is every child’s right to receive an education. By adapting and making small changes to the accepted way we, we can ensure that all learners can access learning. Ultimately if learning is made accessible for all, we will see happy, relaxed and engages pupils and a dramatic reduction in placement breakdown.


1. Special educational needs and disability: an analysis and summary of data sources, 2022

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