How to make sure you communicate clearly with members with additional needs
It's important that everyone understands instructions and knows what's going on.
For girls with additional needs, not being able to understand instructions can be a barrier to them feeling comfortable and having fun.
Use these inclusive communication methods to ensure that everyone can understand information and instructions. Or scroll down to find and download our communication passports, developed with National Autistic Society (NAS), to help support a young member in your unit.
- Be very clear about who you are talking to. Are you addressing one girl or the entire group? If talking to an individual, use their name. If talking to a group, say ‘Guides’, ‘Brownies’ or the relevant section name.
- Face the person that you are talking to.
- When addressing a group, make sure that everyone has stopped talking before you begin.
- Put communication into context, for example ‘In tonight’s meeting we will be…’
- Avoid using too many idioms. Younger girls and those with particular additional needs may find these difficult to understand.
- Use clear English.
- Give information in small chunks, rather than all at once.
- Structure information logically, for example ‘First we will go into the room and then we will all sit down on the chairs’.
- Use simple questions to check for understanding, such as ‘Who can tell me what we’re going to do?’
Visual signals can be a great way to get girls’ attention during meetings. They can be simple shorthand for communication and can prevent you from having to raise your voice.
It is vital that you explain to any new girls and adults exactly what signals you use frequently and consistently, and what these mean. For example, when a leader raises their hand this is a signal to be quiet and is used when we need to talk to the girls. All the girls should then stop talking and raise their hands as well.
This explanation should include:
- who is able to give the signal
- what the signal is
- what the signal is used for
- what is expected from the girls.
Once non-verbal signals have been defined, make sure that they are used consistently by all leaders.
When creating documents - such as letters to parents - do the following to make sure they are as clear as possible.
- Use a clear sans serif font, such as Trebuchet. The characters are easier to distinguish for people with reading difficulties or visual impairments.
- Select a font large enough to be read and with clear spacing between lines and paragraphs.
- Keep electronic copies of documents, allowing you to send digital copies and produce large-scale copies on request.
- When printing, use cream or off-white paper that isn’t glossy. Avoid using a design on the background that could obscure writing.
- Present information in a clear and logical way.
- Write in clear English.
Find out more about Girlguiding’s writing guidelines.
Some members might benefit from some extra visual communication. Units can order our free visual timetable resource if they have members who have access needs. The visual timetable resource has four sections to help with different communication needs:
- Feelings cards: The set of feelings cards can be used by young people who have a harder time letting leaders know how they feel. The young member can use the cards and give them to the the leader as needed.
- Meeting structure cards: Meeting structure cards can be used to show girls what is happening now, next and later in the meeting. There are also cards such as 'stop' which can be used with the meeting structure cards to give more information.
- Programme cards: The programme cards show members what they'll be doing during the meeting. There are general cards, such as 'activity' and cards specific to the Girlguiding programme.
- Special events cards: There are also cards included for events like World Thinking Day and residentials. They include a picture that can help a young member know what to expect.
If you need the visual timetable resource, email [email protected] with:
- Your name
- The address to post the resource to
- The access needs of the person they're for
You can also print off the set of PDFs yourself.
Some young people may find it difficult to tell their leaders how they need to be supported. Communication passports are simple resources you can use with girls who have autism or learning disabilities. They give young people an informal way to tell you all about themselves – without the need to communicate verbally.
We've worked with the National Autistic Society (NAS) to develop our own printable communication passports for all sections.
You can print out and give one of our passports to a young member in your unit. With the help of their parents, they can fill in their passports with everything that you need to know about them. They can write, draw or stick pictures onto the passports and give them to you before they start guiding.
These resources can be used to start a conversation with parents about how to support their child, and can travel with the young person to events so all leaders can learn about their needs.