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Devon’s SEND Local Offer

Speech, language and communication needs

Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) is the term used to describe difficulties with:

  • producing speech sounds accurately
  • stammering
  • voice problems, such as hoarseness and loss of voice
  • understanding language (making sense of what people say)
  • using language (words and sentences)
  • interacting with others, for example, difficulties understanding the non-verbal rules of good communication or using language in different ways to question, clarify or describe things

Everyone with SLCN is different and may have difficulty with one, some or all of the different aspects of speech, language or communication at different times of their lives.

Some difficulties are short-term but others will be more permanent and remain throughout childhood and adult life. Find out more about the common features of SLCN.

Sometimes a child or young person’s language disorder is associated with an underlying or co-concurring condition such as autism, hearing loss, cleft palate, neurodegenerative conditions and genetic conditions – for example, cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome.

However, there are times when there may be no clearly identifiable cause. This is known as developmental language disorder (DLD).

The Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder campaign has created a video to explain more about what DLD is while this video from the University of Oxford explains how the term DLD was agreed upon and why it was so important.

The NAPLIC website has brought together a collection of articles all DLD related some of which you might find helpful.

10% of children and young people have long term speech, language and communication needs that impact on life chances and positive outcomes.

If you think your child may have SLCN

Early identification is crucial in order to provide appropriate and timely support. If you think your child might have speech, language and communication needs, you should first talk to a professional involved with your child. This could be, for example, a:

  • health visitor
  • GP
  • pre-school staff member
  • school staff member
  • speech and language therapist
  • community paediatrician

The Speech and Language Therapy Team at Children and Family Health Devon outlines a process that you can follow, starting with ways to check your child’s development and ideas you can try at home to help with difficulties your child might be having.

You can also find lots of helpful advice and resources on the Children and Family Health Devon Facebook page for pre-school age children and Facebook page for school age children.

The ‘Let’s Get Chatting’ campaign in Devon provides key messages to parents about speech, language and communication for their children. The resources available include advice about when to be concerned about your child’s development and who to talk to.

The Speech and Language UK website have a couple of useful resources too:

  • Their age and stages pages provide information on how children learn to talk and understand words, as well as guidance on ‘typical’ language development.
  • They also have a progress checker tool, to help you check the progress of your child’s speech and language development based on typical developmental milestones for children up to age 11.

Please note that these resources are intended to be used as guides only and any concerns you have should be shared with one of the professionals listed above.

The support available

In Devon, we aim to provide timely and appropriate support for children as early as possible in order to maximise their potential and ultimately improve their life chances.

All children and young people are supported under universal services, and if their needs require additional support, they can be referred to targeted and specialist services.

Universal support

Universal support is intended for all children and young people, not just those with additional needs.

You should be provided with information and guidance to support speech, language and communication skills development. This is available from a number of sources including Children and Family Health Devon, public health nurses, the Early Years Consultancy Team, Family Hubs (formerly children’s centres) and your child’s school or educational setting.

Targeted support

Some children will require additional support or provision. At this level, a range of support packages are available from a number of professionals and organisations, including Children and Family Health Devon, public health nurses, children’s centres and The Communication and Interaction Team.

Referral to one or more specialist services will need to be considered at any age if a child shows one or more of the following signs:

  • A lack of progress or response to approaches used by those working at ‘universal’ and ‘early intervention/preventative’ levels.
  • Communication skills that are somewhat behind other levels of the child’s development.
  • A specific problem in a particular area of communication that hinders learning or access to the curriculum.
  • A disordered pattern of communication development, for example, the child is not following the usual developmental pattern.
  • The child’s ability to communicate is negatively impacting on their behaviour as well as their social, emotional and mental health development.

Specialist support

Children and young people requiring specialist support will have significant and persistent needs despite appropriate intervention and support.

At this level:

  • a range of assessments are used to identify persistent and complex speech, language and communication needs
  • The Speech and Language Therapy Team and Communication and Interaction Team provide specialist level support for practitioners in settings and schools to facilitate the effective implementation of specialist interventions
  • schools and educational settings should provide teaching and learning opportunities that are different and additional to normal
  • schools and educational settings should ensure that the learning environments are appropriately adapted to ensure optimum communication and learning
  • workshops are provided for parents in order to ensure you understand your child’s needs and are confident in your role as key communication partner for your child
  • speech and language therapists may deliver direct intervention as appropriate

These three levels of support are available to all children and young people aged from 0 to 25. There is more information available about the support during early years as well as information about the support at all three levels provided in schools.

How to access support

If you have spoken with professionals involved with your child and followed the advice provided but still think that your child needs additional targeted or specialist support, the following teams can help.

Speech and language therapists

Speech and language therapists (SLTs) play a key role in the diagnosis of children with different speech, language and communication needs.

Children and Family Health Devon (CFHD) provide a range of toolkits that you can use with your child before contacting SLT for a referral.

If you decide that you would like to get in touch with a speech therapist you can make a referral to CFHD – you don’t have to ask a GP to do this for you.

There are resources available that can help you to plan and submit an effective referral to speech and language therapy services. Speech and Language UK has developed a series of factsheets that cover the decision-making process for making referrals, what to consider about your child, and how to build a speech, language and communication profile.

The Communication and Interaction Team

The Communication and Interaction (C and I) team offers support, advice and guidance to staff working in education settings in Devon.

In collaboration with schools and other professionals, the team support parents/carers through parent programmes for both autism and SLCN.

Direct engagement with parents/carers is always facilitated in partnership with school staff.

Find out more about the Communication and Interaction Team.

Other support available

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) services

AAC is a range of strategies and tools from simple letter or picture boards to sophisticated computer technologies. AAC helps someone to communicate as effectively as possible, in as many situations as possible. Find out more about AAC on the Communication Matters website.

Information about the support available for AAC users can be found on the Children and Family Health Devon website.

A group of professionals from across the whole of Devon have worked with parents and carers to create a free interactive training programme that provides an introduction to AAC that focuses on the following areas:

  • What is AAC?
  • AAC themes and myths
  • Where can I find out more?

The free training is suitable for parents, carers and professionals and can be accessed at Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) – an introduction.

Vranch House in Exeter provides an AAC intervention service. This service provides specialist speech and language therapist input to help people use high-tech AAC systems.

AAC West is commissioned by NHS England to provide an AAC service to the South West of England.


Today over 100,000 children and adults use Makaton symbols and signs, either as their main method of communication or as a way to support speech.

In addition to children and adults with communication and learning difficulties and the community around them (for example, teachers, health professionals, friends, public service bodies etc), Makaton is increasingly used by the general public to aid communication.

Makaton has been shown to be useful for all sorts of people including those who struggle with understanding concepts, those who have poor literacy skills, including grammatical knowledge, and those with English as an additional language.

By using Makaton, children and adults can take a more active part in life, because communication and language are key to everything we do and learn.

For more information, please visit the Makaton website, or contact Sharon Parnell (Licensed Regional Makaton Tutor).