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Columbia Grange School

Little Steps, Big Aspirations For All


SCERTS is an innovative educational model for working with children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. It provides specific guidelines for helping a child become a competent and confident social communicator, while preventing problem behaviours that interfere with learning and the development of relationships. It also is designed to help families, educators and therapists work cooperatively as a team, in a carefully coordinated manner, to maximise progress in supporting a child.
‘SC’ - Social Communication - the development of spontaneous, functional communication, emotional expression, and secure and trusting relationships with children and adults;
‘ER’ - Emotional Regulation - the development of the ability to maintain a well-regulated emotional state to cope with everyday stress, and to be most available for learning and interacting;
‘TS’ – Transactional Support - the development and implementation of supports to help partners respond to the child’s needs and interests, modify and adapt the environment, and provide tools to enhance learning (e.g. picture communication, written schedules, and sensory supports). Specific plans are also developed to provide educational and emotional support to families, and to foster teamwork among professionals.
Fostering spontaneous functional communication is the most critical educational priority for children with ASD.
Goals and activities should be developmentally appropriate, meaningful and functional.
Natural routines across environments provide contexts for learning and the development of positive relationships.
All behaviour is viewed as purposeful.
We can be as much a part of the problem as we are a part of the solution.


One activity may have multiple goals across Social Communication (SC), Emotional Regulation (ER) and Transactional Support (TS) domains.

E.g. Cooking: SC – making choices for requesting, commenting on observations ER – maintain active engagement in activity, request help, request a break TS – use picture timetable, take turns with peers.


Create communication opportunities
Design activities to be intrinsically motivating and fun resulting in positive emotional experience
Natural interactions & settings are most desirable for learning
Target interrelated and interdependent skills within activity routines (i.e. teaching sequence/ coordination of skills rather than series of isolated skills, so the child becomes a problem solver).
Use activity-based principles in school. E.g. child participates for parts of Maths lesson that is meaningful, purposeful and motivating and then participates in a planned activity routine that emphasises and applies numeracy skills within a functional routine (e.g. objective: counting 1-10 using one-to-one correspondence. a) counting in math lesson b) counting books returned in the library).
Create a balance of activities throughout the school day: natural vs. engineered; unfamiliar vs. familiar; adult-directed vs. child-directed; difficult vs. easy/ mastered; 1:1 vs. group; preferred vs. non-preferred; in class vs. out of class.


Aim: the child’s programme should include individualised learning activities and modification of everyday activities that are both motivating and functional.

The continuum of learning provides structure but also flexibility in teaching:
1. Planned activity routines
i.e. teaching a skill so they can join in with class routines e.g. saying “ hello” for registration; developing emotional regulation strategies to cope with group work
2. Engineered activities & environments
E.g. social skills groups, circle of friends, friendships groups, language/ communication groups)
3. Modified natural activities & environments
The child’s existing natural routines, activities and settings are modified to support optimal participation and engagement by adding support for social communication and emotional regulation.
E.g. SP/LP stage: use of visual timetable and opportunities to make choices within everyday activities
E.g. CP stage: select a friend to work/ play with and negotiate game to play.
4. Naturally occurring events & environments
No significant special supports are implemented nor are activities modified in everyday activities. Involves a continuum between:
one-to-one - small group - large group
with emphasis on interacting with peers (depending on age/ developmental level i.e. very young children have fewer naturally opportunities to participate in large groups). Interpersonal supports by adults will play larger role at this stage to ensure success.


Activities should make sense relative to a child’s daily life activities & routines.
Activities should be selected on the basis of a child’s motivations and strengths. If an activity is not inherently motivating (e.g. self-help skills), try to infuse the activity with supports, topics, information or qualities that support the child’s learning and emotional regulation. E.g. if child likes Thomas the Tank, the characters could be infused into a circle time activity.
Activities should be designed and transactional supports used to provide a clear goal of the activity, a logical sequence to the activity, the steps within the activity and clear indicators when it is finished. E.g. visual schedule
Activities should provide multiple and frequent opportunities for initiating communication, making choices, repairing breakdowns and responding to the communication of adults/ peers.
Activities should have an understandable structure for social participation and turn-taking. Use visual supports to support child’s understanding of his role.
Where possible, activities should involve participation of children who provide good language and social models to support development of positive relationships.

Children’s individual SCERTS goals should be incorporated into all lessons. E.g. specific skills taught in communication and language lesson, but then generalised/ used in other lessons (e.g. topic work). This should be evidenced in your planning.


All children within Columbia Grange have a diagnosis of ASD and have significant challenges in social communication and emotional regulation, needing transactional supports throughout the day, therefore all children have access to the SCERTS curriculum. The SCERTS model addresses 3 distinct developmental stages;
Social Partner Stage: Children who are communicating through pre-symbolic non-verbal means (e.g. gestures, body language etc.).
Language Partner Stage: Children who are communicating through early symbolic means, expressed through verbal language, signs or pictures.
Conversational Partner Stage: Children who are communicating using sentences at a conversation level.
Teachers will determine a child’s developmental stage and select objectives that are functional and meaningful, matching family priorities, and meet developmental areas of need on the SCERTS assessment.
The teachers will create a plan to embed supports for individual children throughout the day.


Pupils are emotionally well regulated, ready to access learning and able to communicate functionally; they can share attention and communicate appropriately according to their ability using symbols, devices and/or speech, be able to transition around school and to different environments in a regulated state. They should be able to regulate their own emotions and accept support from others. They should have the ability to transfer all of these skills to other contexts.


For more information - click the link below to the creator of the SCERTS model website