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The SCERTS Model: A Comprehensive Overview

Updated: Feb 20

There are so many techniques, methodologies and practices that can be used to teaching children with ASD and one of the most widely used (at least in the UK) is SCERTS. Rather than being a therapeutic technique, SCERTS is a model for engaging autistic children which provides specific guidelines for helping a child become a confident social communicator whilst also helping reduce 'problem behaviours' that could interfere with learning or the development of relationships. But what does SCERTS stand for and what are the specific goals of using this model?

What is SCERTS?

SCERTS is a child-centred intervention model for children with autism, though it can also be used for children with other special educational needs. SCERTS provides specific guidelines for helping an individual become a competent and confident social communicator and an active learner.

SCERTS has been described as one of the ‘new generation’ of interventions and approaches for children with Autism. It was devised in response to the call from the National Academy of Sciences as existing models for addressing the needs of children with autism were found to have limited impact, with no one approach being significantly better than another in terms of outcome (National Research Council, 2001).

The SCERTS model was developed by a highly skilled group of clinicians and practitioners and reflects clinical experience and research spanning over thirty years. It particularly addresses some of the main areas for development for a young child with Autism by focusing on:

SC - Social Communication; development of spontaneous, functional communication, emotional expression and secure trusting relationships with other children and adults.

ER - Emotional Regulation; development of the ability to maintain a well-regulated emotional state to cope with stress, and be most available for learning and interacting.

TS - Transactional Support; development and implementation of supports to help partners respond to the person's needs and interests, modify an environment, and provide tools to enhance learning. Specific plans are developed to provide educational and emotional support.

Social Communication

The Social Communication component of SCERTS focuses on the development of

communication and positive participation in social activities. With an emphasis on

functional communication, the model supports the development of joint attention (helping

your child to become more able to participate in reciprocal interactions with others).

Increased competency in joint attention can result in an increased ability to share attention

and emotions as well as to express intentions with a social partner.

Within SCERTS, social communication is split into 3 stages;

Social Partner; Children may develop the ability to communicate intentionally with gesture and/or vocalisations

Language Partner; Pupils communicate for a purpose using symbols, signs and/or words

Conversational Partner; Pupils use words, phrases and sentences. They begin to learn how to engage fully in conversations. Pupils begin to develop an understanding of the feelings and thoughts of others.

Another prioritised communication skill is symbol use (a means to communicate which may

include signs, picture symbols systems to support speech). For some children, using picture

or symbol systems to communicate can lead to increasingly more sophisticated and abstract

means to play and communicate with others.

Children following the SCERTS programmer are all set a goal linked to the development of their Social Communication skills. These targets come from 2 areas, which are Joint Attention and Symbol Use. Some example goals are;

Joint Attention

Symbol Use

Social Partner

  • Engages in interactions with others

  • Initiates social games/interaction

  • Shifts gaze between people

  • Imitates familiar sounds or actions

  • Uses familiar objects conventionally during play

  • Uses gestures and non-verbal means to communicate

Language Partner

  • ​Understands and uses words/symbols to express emotions

  • Shares experiences

  • Comments on actions or events

  • Uses words to express meanings

  • Uses a variety of objects in constructive play

  • Understands a variety of words without contextual cues

Conversational Partner

  • ​Monitors attentional focus of others

  • Shares experiences

  • Increasing ability to understand and talk about past and future events

  • Learns by observation, imitation, instruction and collaboration

  • Understands non-verbal cues

  • Follows rules of conversations

Emotional Regulation

Emotional Regulation supports your child’s ability to regulate their levels of emotional

arousal and, in doing so, supports their ‘availability’ for learning (because children need to

be emotionally calm to enhance their ability to learn).

In the SCERTS model this is undertaken at three different levels:

Self Regulation; the capacity to remain organised and focused despite potentially stressful or distressing events (positive or negative)

Mutual Regulation; capacity to seek assistance and/or accept support from others to restore emotional regulation in states of emotional dysregulation

Recovery from Dysregulation; capacity to use self or mutual regulation strategies to return to an appropriate level of emotional regulation.

Within SCERTS we look at children’s ability to deal with their emotions, feelings and sensory needs within three levels, which are:

Behavioural Level

Language Level

Metacognition Level

Child uses simple motor actions or sensory-motor strategies the child to regulate their arousal level, remain alert, and/or self-soothe these can include behaviours such as rocking or spinning an object and having a hand massage.

Children use words or symbols the child uses to regulate their arousal level, such as using an individual timetable or saying “It’s ok”. At this stage children are learning about a wide range of emotions and how to deal with emotions appropriately.

​Child is able to think about, plan and talk about ways of helping themselves regulate.

Transactional Support

Transactional Support is the planned supports and strategies that adults use to help the child participate in social interactions and everyday activities. The SCERTS programme focuses on ensuring that the adults within school provide the correct supports for children at all times in order for children to achieve set objectives. These supports take the form of:

Interpersonal Support; This refers to the way that communication partners (adults or peers); adjust their language, interaction styles and how they provide models of play and behaviour for individuals.

Learning Support; Ensuring that the environment and activities are structured in a way that ensures social communication and emotional regulation are encouraged.

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