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Severe & Complex Support Needs

The term 'severe and complex support needs' can be used to describe children and adults with multiple barriers to learning such as communication, cognition, sensory (vision & hearing) and physical.

The population of individuals with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) are often also included within the 'Complex Needs' description.

Some individuals with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) may also be described as having complex support needs due to the complexity of their communication, cognitive and sensory difficulties.



Technology has the potential to reduce or eliminate barriers to learning for this population, offering solutions for communication and access across all areas of life.


Some Ways Technology Can Help

In a school setting, learners with complex needs require a specialised environment and access to the curriculum, which may (should?) include some or all of the following low, medium and high assistive technology supports.

Low Tech

Medium Tech

You can find out more about 'Multi-Message' devices on the CALL Scotland Communication Aids pages.

High Tech


How can we use Assistive Technology?

Individuals with Complex Needs require opportunities to experience and learn communication, cognition and social interaction skills. For individuals with PMLD, who are at the very earliest stages of development, a responsive environment focusing on responding, interacting and communicating is essential.


When working with learners who are at a very early developmental level, it is almost impossible to separate out the learning of communicative skills from the actual process of living and, to this degree, communication can be seen to be perhaps more than any other area of development an almost entirely processed-based activity.

Imray & Hinchliffe 2014


Whilst Assistive Technology can support individuals to learn these skills and gain a degree of control over their environments, it is important to note the need for careful consideration and assessment. When using Assistive Technology, we should always be carefully observing and reflecting, asking the question 'Why am I doing this?' so that the use of Technology does not become an end in itself, but rather a means of learning new skills.

For example:

Assisstive Technology in Schools

Staff working in schools may have a number of Assistive Technologies at their disposal, and it is important that everyone supporting learners with complex needs in school settings not only feel comfortable and skilled enough to use the technology, but have a clear understanding of why it is being used and how it links to the curriculum. At CALL Scotland, we have a programme of Professional Learning including 1 day courses, half day seminars and free webinars. You can find details of all our courses on the Learning page. We encourage you to sign up for our newsletter which will alert you to relevant upcoming Professional Learning.

There are a number of excellent frameworks and guidance materials created by colleagues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which provide ideas for assessment, implementation and curricular contexts for using Assistive Technology with learners who have complex needs.

Ian Bean's Switch Progression Roadmap.

The Routes for Learning Assessment Tool from the Welsh Government.

Quest for Learning and the Q Skills
a guidance and assessment resource from Northern Ireland, based on Routes for Learning and includes materials for assessment, guidance and pathways for learning.

Other Useful Websites & Resources

Training materials for Teachers of Learners with Severe, Profound and Complex Learning Difficulties.

South Lanarkshire's Framework for Supporting Learners with Severe and Profound Learning Needs .

From Northern Ireland, practical resources to assist in developing a sensory curriculum for learners with PMLD.

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