Challenge Strategies

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General Challenges

Play-Symbolic Representation

  • Reading and Writing Skills

    Challenges and Strategies

    Be aware that pupils may have difficulties with proximity of others- gradually develop play from solitary play (alone); to parallel play (playing near another); associative play (using the same materials for different purposes, beginning to share); and co-operative play (sharing and turn taking).

  • Be aware of developmental levels of play: manipulative/exploratory, cause and effect, interactive.

  • Pretend play may be functional, symbolic, based on fantasy, social and interactive

  • Specifically teach that playing with someone else can be fun- begin imitating the child and gradually include new activity into the play routine.

  • Engage the pupil with pretend/representative play (pretending that doll is drinking tea, pretend a cardboard box is a ship, pretend to be different people (dress-up). Develop movement, dance, mime; art activities (shared attention, turn-taking, communication). Structure activities and use visual support.

  • Develop symbolic representation-
  • Visual timetable Object/picture/symbol

  • Signs/symbols in the structured classroom

  • Matching –picture to object

  • Matching-picture to picture (Work systems)

  • Use signs/symbols to indicate activity breaks

  • Structure/left to right work systems

Sensory Issues

Collaborate with Occupational Therapist

  • Activity breaks

  • ‘Quiet area’ with play tent, cushions

Organisational skills

Organisational skills (cont)

  • Use first/then schedules

  • Visual timetables

  • Build activity breaks into the schedule

  • Visual support for spoken language

  • Sequencing activities

  • Structured work systems

  • Pupils should know what work is required in a task, how much needs to be done, when is the task finished and what happens when the task is completed

  • Highlight

  • Reduce content on page

  • Mind-mapping

  • Break tasks into a series of small steps

  • Use a multi-sensory approach

  • Keep instructions short – CHUNK

  • Demonstrate instructions with diagram or picture

  • Allow thinking time – revision picture / mind map

  • Checklists / Adhesive notes

  • Transparent pencil case
  • Check the seating position of the student away from sources of noise (projectors/ open doors/ computers etc.)

  • Graphic organisers


  • Begin with high interest text/stories

  • Use interactive, tactile books

  • Use books which have a high level of factual content

  • Reading buddy. books of high interest, repetitive books, songs, poems, rhymes

  • Read ‘Silly sentences’

  • Stories About Me- begin with student interests

  • Choice with visual support

  • Reading corner with a wide range of books and reading material available

  • Tactile/interactive books

  • Story time at home

  • Token economies

  • ICT

  • Listening centre with books and cassettes/CDs

  • Google favourite stories to get audio versions

  • Make a movie:-video the students dramatizing a favourite book and share with other classes.

Narrow range of interests

  • Use preferred interests to motivate

  • Gradually introduce new material with teacher modelling

  • Teacher/student take turns to work on new material

  • Use ICT/APPS

Problems with shared attention/reciprocal communication

  • Play turn-taking games with visual/ written instructions

  • Use the student’s interests to motivate and follow the student’s lead in activities

  • Gradually increase the timeframe of shared activities



  • Stories, songs, rhymes, games, routine interactions

  • Build up sight vocabulary based on interests, family, classmates

  • Social sight words

  • Word walls

  • Picture to word matching

  • Identify letters in words

  • Identify words only

  • PECS/visuals : vocabulary to sentence structure

  • Use pictures to support meaning

  • Develop vocabulary through play and social interactions

  • Use a picture dictionary

  • Generalise classroom vocabulary to different locations

Phonological skills

  • Multi-Sensory Approach

  • Focus on Rhythm, Rhyme, Words, Syllables through songs, stories, poems, rhymes, clapping, tapping

  • Clap out syllables; songs, raps and rhymes

  • Begin with initial sounds- student’s name

  • Extend to other words with same initial sound

  • Focus on sounds of other letters

  • Associate sounds with patterns in rhymes, with words, signs, symbols and letters

  • Sounds and names of the alphabet


  • Teacher reads aloud every day

  • Use books with repetitive texts

  • Peer/paired reading

  • Talking books

  • Focus on favourite book

  • Record student reading well known text


  • Sequence photos from student’s daily routine

  • First/Then

  • Yes/No

  • ‘Specific teaching of ‘Wh’ question words

  • Pictures/visual support for why/because,

  • cause/effect

  • Predicting-begin with repetitive books

  • Re-reading text to develop understanding

  • Story retell with visual support

  • Focus on factual books and literal comprehension to begin

  • Specific teaching of the story title, setting, characters, problem, solution, main idea.

  • Specific teaching of context

  • Use diagrams, graphics, tables.

  • Move from teacher supporting the student to independent work

  • Check the readability of the text.

  • Reduce the amount of text on each page

  • Offer choice as to the number of questions answered

  • Highlight difficult words. These words can be written on the board/flashcards and taught explicitly.


Fine motor skills/motivation

  • Theraputty, clothes pegs, threading, cutting, pasting, tracing ,colouring

  • Choice of writing implements

  • Wide variety of implements-include with art activities

  • Token economies/motivators

  • Short achievable tasks

  • Typing programmes


  • High frequency words

  • Visual approach

  • Teach with whole word approach

  • Trace letters

  • Build up words with component parts


  • Use different colours for nouns, verbs and adjectives to build sentences

  • PECS/ visuals

  • Teach in context through play e.g. sand and water tray, dressing up, toy house, day to day interactions


  • Teach with whole word approach to reading

  • Picture to word, word to word match

  • Word walls

  • Lotto games

  • Personal dictionary

Writing Genres

Recount: News, diaries

Narrative: Stories, News, letters, cards, notes

Report: Factual report, report on news item, report on area of interest, book report

Explanation: How to make a sandwich, how I come to school, how to pack my bag (task analysis and checklists)

Persuasive: Write an advertisement or flyer for school event

Procedure: Directions, rules, recipes

Writing Process

  • Writing for environmental signs

  • Writing messages

  • Use post-its to write one fact about self

  • Write ‘Silly Sentences’

  • Writing instructions, recipes, shopping lists

  • Wall charts with pictures and captions about class activities

  • Create books about individual students with pictures and captions

  • Draw a picture and write a sentence

Develop a framework:

  • Use mind-maps/flowcharts to focus on topic and specific vocabulary

  • Include vocabulary for emotions

  • Develop vocabulary into sentences

  • Sequence sentences into story

  • Teach use of first/next/then

  • Punctuation: capital letters and full stops

  • Edit, proofread, publish and display

  • Scramble and unscramble story sentence strips


Special Education Support Service, c/o Cork Education Support Centre, The Rectory, Western Road, Cork - Tel: 1850 200 884 - Email:

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