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Drumbeat School & ASD Service

Literacy at Drumbeat

At Drumbeat School communication is at core of the curriculum. Communication opportunities are at the centre of all learning activities throughout the school day. Emphasis is placed on the importance of engaging, fun and meaningful interactions and experiences. Drumbeat promotes a total communication approach using specific ASD interventions personalised to each child.

We offer opportunities for each pupil to develop their reading and writing skills by providing a differentiated curriculum that is accessible but challenging for all.

We aim to set and develop foundations needed for successful learning in literacy; starting from where the pupil is and valuing the pupil’s strengths and special interests. We aim to provide skills for life giving self -confidence and promoting independence both in and outside school.

Outlined below are some of the approaches and interventions used to support the literacy curriculum.

Attention Autism 

Attention autism is a dynamic, engaging and joyful invention aimed at developing attention, shared attention, and communication and interaction skills.   It promotes the pleasure of shared experiences and simply having fun. Attention Autism strategies allow us to understand and develop pupil’s attention skills.  Whilst doing this it allows staff to create a shared experience.  This means we can plant an idea in a pupil’s head so we can talk about something that we both have shared and understand.

Attention autism promotes all the skills our pupils need to enable communication.  Eye contact, gesture, facial expression, proximity, body language, shared experience - if these aren't there it's harder! Attention Autism also builds on ASD strengths:

  • visual skills
  • memory for motivating things and routines
  •  lots of energy

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Picture Communication Exchange (PECS) 

This is a form of alternative or augmentative communication for students. It focuses on the initiation part of a communicative interaction, an area where many children with Autism have difficulties. PECS is a structured approach which follows a number of stages. It moves from giving a picture of a desired item to a communication partner, to discriminating pictures, putting them together in sentences and using this to answer and comment. The aim is to develop functional communication throughout the day. Sometimes spoken language may develop or be enhanced by using this approach.

At Drumbeat PECS is used throughout the day to help children to express their needs and wants. Children using the PECS system have their own PECS books which they should take with them wherever they go so that they always have a ‘voice’ to communicate.

For more information

Talking Mats 

Talking Mats is an interactive visual resource which involves discussion around a topic using a top scale and different options. Students physically place different visual options on a board to express their general feelings about a topic according to the top scale e.g. happy/not sure/unhappy. Talking Mats support our students as they focus only on the essential words, reduce memory demands and give the student time to process information.  It gives control to the person being interviewed and helps students to learn to say ‘no’. It can be used with verbal or non-verbal students.

At Drumbeat, Talking Mats are used to help students express their feelings or preferences,  to provide a ‘thinking tool’ to help students structure and verbalise thoughts and to help students to understand what is involved in making a decision and to give their opinion.

Aided Language Boards 

Aided language refers to the use of symbols alongside spoken language. Different types of aided symbols include: objects, photographs, picture symbols, and written words. Aided language boards are key in providing visuals to aid understanding of language. It is important that adults model using the boards at first. The boards then provide a way for pupils with no or limited spoken language or unclear speech to communicate. The first stage of introducing aided language stimulation is using individual symbol cards for activities to aid choice making. At Drumbeat students routinely use individual symbols and we are beginning to introduce aided language boards to help requesting, commenting and interaction for daily activities and storytelling. In the future we plan to introduce boards for general interaction.

Colourful semantics 

Colourful semantics uses colour coding to help children understand different question types and develop their sentence building skills. It helps teachers to reinforce vocabulary and sentence structures. At Drumbeat we use this approach so pupils can make coloured picture strips to describe a photo, picture in a book or a activity they have just done. Pupils can then begin to copy write the key words from their symbols and as their skills develop they may just need their coloured picture strips to act as a prompt. This approach is useful to scaffold emergent literacy skills and help children to become confident with speaking, reading and writing. Colour coding can also help reading comprehension. Sometime pupils find it difficult to answer who questions or where questions when looking through text. To help them first they could underline/ colour all the who and where words in their appropriate colour and it should be easier to find out key information. Colourful semantics can be fun and structured which builds on the strengths of our pupils.  Pupils at Drumbeat respond well to the colour coding system. This approach tends to be used alongside Makaton signing.

Therapy support in literacy 

The speech and language therapy team work with teachers in literacy to model strategies to help attention, understanding and expressive communication. The team focus on developing pupil's functional communication skills and also provide input into communication targets. They help to ensure consistency across classes and that communication systems are used within curriculum work.

The occupational therapist works with secondary teachers in literacy lessons to make sessions as multisensory as possible. This can range from working on fine motor and mark making skills to introducing sensory motor movement breaks into lessons.

Reading at Drumbeat 

At Drumbeat reading approaches are personalised to ensure that all pupils have access to resources that meet their learning style.  This involves ensuring pupils experience a blend of phonics and visual sight learning and are able to develop those methods that are most useful in order to progress in reading. The teaching of reading at Drumbeat focuses on developing a lifelong enjoyment of stories and books and an emphasis that reading skills must be functional and promote pupil’s independence and life skills.

The teaching of phonics is supported by the use of commercial schemes and tried and tested reading strategies.

Letters and Sounds is a phonics resource published by the Department for Education and Skills in 2007. It aims to build children's speaking and listening skills in their own right as well as to prepare children for learning to read by developing their phonic knowledge and skills. It sets out a detailed and systematic programme for teaching phonic skills for children starting by the age of five.

Please see

In the Primary Department we have just introduced the Read Write Inc scheme to support the teaching of reading. This scheme is based on the teaching of phonics and blending common them to make words through the use of repetition and multi -sensory activities. Very quickly children can be equipped to read simple books and therefore feel like readers. It is hoped that this scheme will be rolled out across the school.

Jolly Phonics is a fun and child centred approach to teaching literacy through synthetic phonics. With actions for each of the 42 letter sounds, the multi-sensory method is very motivating for children and teachers, who can see their students achieve.   Jolly phonics is used in coalition with letters and sounds with the understanding that many of our learners thrive when teaching is enhanced with the use of music, songs and actions.  Jolly phonics offers pupils a range of ways to access learn and re-call phonics knowledge with individual songs, pictures and action to help learn each letter sound.  Each of these approaches works with pupils strengths, being both visual, auditory and creating motor memory links to the sound they are hearing.

For more information

Whole language reading instructions sometimes known as ‘look and say’ or ‘sight reading’ is also used to develop reading skills with many drumbeat pupils. Sight word activities work within the understanding that many of our pupils are visual learners and the use of symbols and/or whole word recognition can support pupils who have specific difficulties with phonic decoding.  Within this approach children who are at the first stage of learning language, would use photos and pictures in a range of matching and selecting activities with the understanding that this prepares children for learning to read by helping them develop their visual skills.

Drumbeat understand that when children begin to read, the emphasis should be placed on igniting motivation to engage in reading through formats that are interesting and motivational for individual pupils. In order to do this Drumbeat used a wide selection of reading schemes to support learning and enjoyment including:

Biff, Chip and Kipper Stories (Oxford Reading Tree)

These stories are packed full of humour, drama, detailed illustrations and endearing characters to motivate every child.  Carefully levelled to make sure every child makes real progress with their reading

These stories work in conjunction with Floppy’s phonics’ fiction and non-fiction stories.  A series that encourage pupils to put their phonics skills into practice and are a perfect fit with phonics teaching.

Project X

A series of exciting and innovative stories designed to motivate 21st century children!  These stories introduced an amazing new character adventure that really engages today's readers.  Alongside this series Drumbeat uses

Project X CODE

A reading intervention programme that embeds systematic synthetic phonics within a highly motivational 3D adventure series. This book-by-book series will keep children reading as they revisit phonics knowledge and build key reading and comprehension skills

Traditional Tales

40 of the best-loved stories from around the world are now fully decodable, making them a must for every classroom. These enchanting tales have been shared for generations and now every child can read them for themselves.

Reading recovery

1:1 reading sessions are offered to specific pupils who require further reading invention.

Writing at Drumbeat 

Handwriting without tears

At Drumbeat school we use the Handwriting Without Tears programme, which was developed by Occupational Therapist Jan Olsen and is used widely in the US. The programme takes a very multisensory approach to learning, using song and movement, large wooden pieces and small chalkboards to develop letter formation. There are a range of resources available including teacher guides and student workbooks, iPad Apps and worksheet makers. The programme covers all stages from prewriting to proficient cursive writing.

Although the programme was not developed specifically for students with autism, it does lend itself to Drumbeat students as it is very visual, very hands on, and can be used quite flexibly according to individual needs.

Teachers may use Handwriting Without Tears as part of daily literacy work, or as a weekly group session followed up by daily independent work tasks (such as worksheets). Teachers are supported by the school Occupational Therapist where necessary to set up class groups and set handwriting targets.

More information at


WriteDance is a handwriting programme that uses music and dance to focus on the gross motor skills required to become a proficient writer. The programme was developed by a Dutch Graphologist and is gaining popularity in mainstream UK schools. The programme includes CDs and books with songs and stories the students follow and they learn specific movements to develop their physical skills including balance, coordination, flexibility and stamina.

Some classes use WriteDance sessions alongside other handwriting work. It works well as a movement and relaxation session as well as helping a class to focus on particular letters they are learning for example. Many of our students need movement as part of their lesson in order to keep focus, so these sessions can keep a class engaged in writing where seated work might not.

The sessions are class based and led by the teachers.  

Speed Up

Speed Up! is a Kinaesthetic Programme to Develop Fluent Handwriting.

It is a programme written by Lois Addy, a UK Occupational Therapist and Lecturer. The course is designed for children whose handwriting is slow, illegible or lacking in fluency.  It is a short course (6-12 weeks) for small groups of students who already have competent letter formation. The course is new to  Drumbeat school and we will be implementing this in the near future.


Drumbeat promotes a holistic communication environment in which all forms of communication are encouraged. Research tells us that children with ASD are strong visual leaners and rely on visual cues within their environment. Drumbeat has a school based speech and language therapist, in addition to input from PCT speech and language therapists. Therapists work in individual and group sessions with students as well as providing ongoing training and personalised support for teachers to use in classrooms.