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Speech, language and communication needs
This page gives you lots of information about Speech, Language and Communication Needs or SLCN. Click on the questions below for more information.
- What does Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) mean?
“The ability to communicate is an essential life skill for all children and young people and it underpins a child’s social, emotional development. Children and young people with speech, language and communication needs include many of the most vulnerable children, those most in need of effective support to reach their potential” (Bercow 2008).
Speech, language and communication play a vital role in our lives. Without being able to talk to, and understand other people we can’t do things like:
Communicate with our families.
Buy things at the shops.
Go to work.
Fortunately, most children do learn to communicate. Children develop communication skills from birth. They rely on speech, language and communication to be able to learn at school and play with their friends. They need these skills to reach their full potential.
Children begin to understand words before they can say them. They then learn how to say these words and how to put them together to make sentences.
Children develop speech, language and communication skills at different rates. Some develop quickly, while others may take longer.
Ability to make sounds accurately
Ability to process sounds
Ability to speak fluently without too many hesitations or repetitions of words or sounds
Ability to process and understand words (receptive language)
Ability to use words to convey meaning (expressive language)
Using language to interact with others
Being able to use language in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes
It includes verbal and non-verbal forms of communication
Every child with SLCN is different; they may have difficulty with one, some or all of the different aspects of speech, language or communication at different times of their lives.
Speech, Language and Communication Needs is a broad category which includes disorders that are likely to persist over time.
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 Syndrome.
However, there are times when there may be no clearly identifiable cause. This is known as Developmental Language Disorder (DLD).
More information about this terminology is available in this video from Dorothy Bishop on YouTube.
Developmental Language Disorder
Children with DLD may:
Have difficulty in understanding information conveyed through spoken language
Have difficulty in communicating their needs, wants, thoughts and ideas to other people
Not understand the basic concepts of communication and that they can impart information or impact on the behaviours of others
Find it hard to understand and/or use words in context
Use words incorrectly with inappropriate grammatical patterns
Have a reduced vocabulary
Find it hard to recall words and express ideas
Have speech and language skills that are significantly behind their peers
Have poor or unintelligible speech
Developmental Language Disorder is a long term condition that, without appropriate support, can have a substantive impact on a child/young person’s ability to:
Achieve their potential
Make and maintain friendships
Understand cause, effects and consequences
Develop resilience and self esteem
Find or maintain employment
The Talking about a Generation report has more information about the impact of SLCN.
- How can I check the progress of my child's language development?
The development of speech, language and communication is very complex. On the Talking Point website you can check the progress of your child’s speech and language development based on typical developmental milestones. Please note, this is intended to only be a guide and any concerns you have should be shared with a health visitor, GP, pre-school leader, teacher, SENDCo or speech and language therapist.
Within each age group from 6 months to 11 years old you will find:
- Information about how children typically develop speech and language skills
- Tips for supporting these skills
- Things to look out for.
For information relating to the typical development of speech and language skills for children aged 11-18 years you can use the 11-18 year old milestone guide on the Talking Point website.
- What should I do if I am worried about my child?
Your child could be displaying difficulties with:
- Their speech development
- Responding to others, physically or verbally
- Interacting or playing
- Their behaviour
Early identification is crucial in order to provide appropriate and timely support. For some children identification may occur when they are very young. For others, however, it may not occur until they are older perhaps when they start exhibiting difficulties in school or social difficulties with their peers.
A number of people are crucial in helping to identify a child who may have be having difficulties, including:
Speech and Language Therapists
In order to accurately identify a child’s needs it is important that the child s observed in a variety of contexts and careful consideration is given to the environment and what is typical developmental norms. Formal assessment is a continuous process over time, not a single event. The aim of assessment is to gather evidence to inform and enable appropriate and timely support and provision for the child.
- What help and support is available in Devon?
Devon’s provision and support for SLCN reflects the principles laid out in the SEND Code of Practice. Fundamental within this approach is the Graduated Approach and cycle of:
Assess, Plan, Do, Review.
In Devon we aim to provide timely and appropriate support for children and people as early as possible in order to maximise their potential and ultimately improve their life chances. The Local Offer provides an overview of the education, health and social care services and support available for children and young people with SEND from birth to 25.
Within Devon support is identified at a universal, targeted and specialist level as recommended by the Better Communication Research Programme and the SEND Code of Practice.
A range of professionals may be involved in the process of identifying and supporting the child at various levels and stages, depending on the needs. It is important to note that any of these professionals may be involved at a universal, targeted and/or specialist level. Collaborative and integrated working between services is essential to ensure effective early support, identification and intervention.
Universal support is intended for all children, not just children with additional needs. An emphasis is placed upon improving opportunities for language learning within a range of contexts, considering how to adapt the environment to facilitate language learning and use and/or supporting practitioners, parents and families to ensure that general strategies are in use which help all children’s communication to develop. The support may include focused training or staff development to ensure all professionals working with children have ‘universal’ knowledge about SLCN as defined by the Speech, Language and Communication Framework.
At this level:
- Information and guidance is provided to parents and carers 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, Early Years Advisory Service (Babcock LDP), Children’s Centres.
- All schools and settings are required to ensure that they provided Quality First Teaching that promote inclusive practices. To help achieve this all settings have access to the Devon Graduated Response Documents in order to help identify how they will meet speech, language and communication needs as part of their core offer and to help the practitioners to understand what provision is expected at the Universal Level.
- All settings are expected to provide children with a communication and language friendly environment. Effective universal provision begins with adapting the environment to reduce or remove barriers so that all learners are able to develop their social, emotional and learning potential. It is important that all involved consider how adults interact and communicate with children; the physical environment; visual support and careful planning. Effective strategies for supporting children should be known by all staff, including lunch-time supervisors and office staff and there should be a consistency of approach across the whole setting/school to avoid confusion for the child. Audits are available for practitioners to use.
- Training is available at a universal level of competency in order to help practitioners to identify and support speech, language and communication needs.
- Children Centre staff and Speech and Language Therapists deliver training to staff within the Children’s Centres to support the early identification of speech, language and communication needs and ensure a consistent approach across the county.
- Health Visitors provide crucial support in helping to identify and support need. This is through the 2 1/4yr old check.
- A range of tools are available to help identify and support need including: The Graduated Response Documents, Language and Speech Link Assessments, Talking Point progress checks.
- The Speech, Language and Communication Framework provides users with a personalised analysis of their current confidence levels and offers suggestions for next steps in continuing professional development (CPD) including training courses, reading and resources. In addition, at the Universal level, there are opportunities for practitioners to develop their learning through short interactive online activities. It is a self-assessment tool which enables individuals to map out their skills, knowledge and confidence in supporting the development of these essential skills in the children and young people they work with.
The majority of children and young people will have their needs met at Universal Level. However, there are some children who will require some additional support or provision. The targeted offer gives specific support in a meaningful and functional context for those children and young people who are felt to be vulnerable in relation to speech, language and communication. 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, Nursery Plus (Babcock LDP), The Communication and Interaction Team (Babcock LDP).
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 somewhat behind other levels of the child’s development.
- A specific problem in a particular area of communication which hinders learning or access to the curriculum.
- A disordered pattern of communication development (e.g. the child is not following the usual developmental pattern).
- Behaviour difficulties which are having an adverse impact on the child’s ability to communicate.
At this level:
- Every school has a named speech and language therapist. The therapist may be able to attend termly liaison meetings with schools to identify children and young people requiring targeted and/or specialist support and agree plans to meet their needs.
- Schools deliver a rolling programme of identified, evidence based targeted interventions across a range of core speech, language and communication skills. Initial set up is supported by the speech and language therapy team and/or specialist teachers.
The Specialist Level of support is in addition to the Universal and Targeted Support. It is expected that this level and type of support will positively impact on the other levels of provision. Children and young people within this level 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, for example: Speech Disorder, DLD and Autism.
- 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 differentiation.
- Schools and educational settings should ensure that the learning environments are appropriately adapted to ensure optimum communication and learning.
- Workshops are provided for parents of children with specialist level needs in order to ensure they understand their child’s needs and are confident in their role as key communication partner for their child.
- Speech and language therapists deliver direct intervention for children and young people, as appropriate.
- The Communication and Interaction Team Advisory Staff model interventions for children and young people, as appropriate.
- There is a local agreement for specialist assessment and intervention via Vranch House, eg. practice and procedures for high technology augmentative and alternative communication; and managing dysphagia within education settings.
Effective universal provision begins with adapting the environment to reduce or remove barriers so that all learners are able to develop their social, emotional and learning potential. It is important that all involved consider how adults interact and communicate with children; the physical environment; visual support and careful planning. Effective strategies for supporting children should be known by all staff, including lunch-time supervisors and office staff and there should be a consistency of approach across the whole setting/school to avoid confusion for the child.
Examples of audits for Communication Friendly Environments:
2. The Communication Trust – key features of a communication-friendly classroom
3. The Communication Trust – supporting communication : classroom observation tool
The Speech, Language and Communication Framework (SLCF) is a free professional development tool, accessible to all, which sets out the key skills needed to support the speech, language and communication (SLC) development of all children and young people. It is a self-assessment tool which enables individuals to map out their skills, knowledge and confidence in supporting the development of these essential skills in the children and young people they work with. The SLCF provides users with a personalised analysis of their current confidence levels and offers suggestions for next steps in continuing professional development (CPD) including training courses, reading and resources. In addition, at the Universal level, there are opportunities for practitioners to develop their learning through short interactive online activities.
- What do different professionals do to support a child with SLCN?
All practitioners should support children and young people with SLCN. If a child needs targeted or specialist support, the following teams can help. You can get support from one, two, or all of these organisations at the same time.
Speech and language therapists
Speech and language therapists (SLTs or SALTs) have a distinct role in assessing, planning, delivering and evaluating support for children and young people with a range of speech, language and communication needs. SLTs play a key role in diagnosis of children with different speech, language and communication needs. As a result, it is important to make a referral to SLT if you have concerns about a child or young person’s speech, language and communication development. The Communication Trust has a leaflet, giving you more information about the role of the SLT here.
The Babcock LDP Communication and Interaction Team
The Communication & Interaction (C&I) Team consists of highly qualified and experienced Advisory Teachers, a Pre-5 Autism Specialist and Specialist Support Assistants. The team offers support, advice and guidance for children and young people where Autism and/or Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) is the primary need. You can find out more about the C&I Team, including who they work with and what they do, on their website. As a school-based service, direct involvement with parents/carers will be carried out in conjunction with school staff.
To make a request for support from the Communication and Interaction Team, you need:
- Parental consent
- The request must come from a professional/practitioner in Education or Health
Speech and Language Therapists
Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs or SALTs) provide a range of services including universal, prevention, training, assessments and therapeutic interventions/programmes for children and young people (from birth to 18 years) with language and/or speech difficulties, disorders in fluency/voice and those with dysphagia. The Speech and Language Therapy team works in short focused episodes of care with functional goals which have been discussed and agreed with parents and/or schools and educational settings. The team offers targeted and specialist support. You can find out more about the Speech and Language therapy team, including children and young people they can and can’t work support, on their website.
Before requesting help from us
If you think the child or young person has difficulties which speech and language therapists would be able to help with, please use the toolkits listed below. These toolkits will help you, and us, to establish the child or young person’s level of need and collect information which will be useful when we first see them.
Please follow the instructions in the toolkit, implement the strategies suggested within them and keep a record of the results as we will require you to submit this information to us if you find that you do need assistance from the Speech and Language Therapy Service.
We work in partnership with children and young people, their families and other professionals to reduce the impact of these difficulties, recognising the importance of delivering interventions in the most appropriate environment for the child.
You may also need:
- ENT (consultant) report – requests for voice difficulties only
- Hearing test – most recent report – requests for speech difficulties only
- Speech Link/Language Link assessments – results and evidence of outcomes
Making effective referrals
The Communication Trust has developed a series of factsheets to help settings plan and write effective referrals to speech and language therapy services. The factsheets cover the decision-making process for making referrals, what to consider about the child or young person, and how to build a speech, language and communication profile. The factsheets also contain interactive links to free resources that can support referrers during the process.
Augmented Alternative Communication (AAC) Services
The term ‘Alternative and Augmentative Communication’ (AAC) refers to the use of various means of communication which can replace or support speech. These include a wide range of systems from complex PC based communication aids with synthesised voices (high technology aids), to simple technology aids which may contain only a few spoken messages, to books and boards (low technology) which a person with a disability may access via a finger point or by using their eyes.
Vranch House provides an AAC intervention service. This service provides specialist Speech and Language Therapist input to help people use high-tech AAC systems.
Services in Plymouth and Torbay
Livewell Southwest provides Speech and Language therapy services in Plymouth.
Children and Family Health Devon provides Speech and Language therapy services in South Devon and Torbay.
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 the key to everything we do and learn.
- What can I do as a parent carer to support a child with SLCN?
There are many ways you can support your child’s language development. Here are some top tips for one to one play with your child at home.Follow your child’s leadSpend time watching what your child likes to play with. Next time, put out a selection of toys that your child likes. Wait for your child to play with their choice of toy and lead the play. Join in by copying or doing what your child says. Extend your child’s play by continuing to play next to them but show them slightly different things to do with the toys.Get down to your child’s levelMake sure your child can see your face while playing by coming down to their level. Children pick up lots of cues from your facial expression, eye contact and lip movements. Being on their level can make children feel more willing to communicate.WaitGive your child time to talk or respond by waiting. Comment rather than ask questions. Try to comment on what your child is doing rather than asking them questions. Talk at a level that your child can understand and learn from–not too easy and not too hard. Repeat key words so your child can remember them.For more information, please see the parent tips at Hanen info. Additionally, Children and Family Health Devon have set up two Facebook pages containing a number of top tips. One of these Facebook pages has advice for preschool, the other has guidance for school-age children.
To develop your child’s receptive language skills (listening and understanding):
- Ensure you have your child’s attention first, e.g. by saying their name or moving down to their level.
- Limit distractions.
- Break down instructions into chunks–be explicit. Depending on what level your child is at, use short simple sentences with one or two key words.
- Ensure that the instructions are given in the order that they have to do them.
- Use positive statements rather than in the negative form eg ‘Walk slowly’.
- Use gestures or signs to help children understand key words.
- Children with language difficulties are often helped by visual images. Provide visual support to help the child to remember what to do eg pictures/symbols/written aide–memoirs/mind-maps/word webs.
- Allow pauses before your child responds. Sometimes they may need more time to take in the information.
- Use lots of different kinds of words with your child-action words, describing words and object words.
- Target, pre-teach and reinforce key vocabulary in practical contexts using a multisensory approach. Build on the vocabulary that they already know,understand and use.
- Check their understanding by asking the child to repeat back what they have to do.
- Ensure that praise is explicit eg ‘That was really good thinking’.
To develop your child’s expressive language skills (speaking, vocabulary and grammar):
– Who/what, e.g. “who/what’s this?”– What doing, e.g. “what’s daddy doing?”– Where, e.g. “where did the teddy go?”– When, e.g. “when did you go to the park?”– How/Why, e.g. “why did you push your sister?”If a child is unable to answer a ‘what doing’ question, it is unlikely that they would be able to respond to a where, when, how/why question.
- Wait! Give the child plenty of time to organise their thoughts.
- Provide opportunities and motivational reasons to communicate–do not just expect it to happen.
- Provide opportunities for a child to rehearse what they are going to say before expecting them to contribute to class/group discussions.
- Give choices of vocabulary E.g. “Do you want milk or juice?”, “Shall we play in sand or water?”
- Adults can encourage children to expand their sentences by adding to what the child says, e.g. Child: “Look, bus” Adult: “Yes, it’s a big red bus”.
- Adults can encourage children to support their spoken language by using non-verbal communication through modelling signs and/or gestures.
- Try not to correct grammatical mistakes or word order, instead model back to the child the correct way of saying the sentence.
- Encourage the child to self-monitor. Acknowledge the parts that you understand. Be honest and say something such as “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that bit. Can you tell me again in a different way?’. Then give the child time to rephrase his/her ideas or ask them to draw it/take you to it, show you.
- Ask open ended questions i.e. those that begin with a ‘wh’ word such as ‘who’, ‘what’ ‘where’ when’ why’ etc. Asking closed questions, which only require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or a one word answer does not encourage the child to use a full sentence. Be aware that children’s understanding of ‘wh’ questions develop in the following sequence:
ROBINS (Parent Programme)
The Language and Communication Parent Programme has been designed to support parents and carers to develop a better understanding of speech, language and communication needs, and what it can mean to your child and family. The course is delivered by Specialist Teachers in the Communication and Interaction Team.
This informal course includes the following five sessions, aimed at primary school aged children. Within the sessions there are plenty of opportunities for discussion, practical ideas and opportunities to meet other parents.
1 Speech, Language and Communication Development 2 Play, Social Development and Behaviour 3 Helping my Child’s Language 4 Helping My Child’s Literacy 5 Working Together: School, Family and SEN Professionals
For further information please contact Sue Vanstone 01392 287239, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Communication Trust
The Communication Trust is a coalition of over 50 not-for-profit organisations. Working together, they support everyone who works with children and young people in England to support their speech, language and communication
- Communication Trust Resources
- Communication Trust – Talking to Parents about a child’s SLCN
- Communication Trust – Universal Training
The Inclusion Development Programme
Anyone can get free online training courses in SLCN and other needs on this government-funded website.
Eklan writes and delivers accredited courses for education and other staff working with those with speech, language and communication needs and for parents, and trains a network of licenced tutors to deliver Elklan courses locally.
- What is the process for getting assessed for SLCN?
Think of assessment for SLCN as a continuous process over time, not as a single event. The aim of assessment is to gather evidence to inform and enable appropriate and timely support and provision for the child. Children with SLCN are assessed and supported under universal services, and if their needs require targeted or specialist support, they can be referred to targeted and specialist services.
The Communication Trust has developed a series of factsheets to help settings plan and write effective referrals to speech and language therapy services. The factsheets cover the decision-making process for making referrals, what to consider about the child or young person, and how to build a speech, language and communication profile.
The factsheets also contain interactive links to free resources that can support referrers during the process.
The available services are listed under “What do different professionals do to support a child with SLCN?”.
- What training is available?
In 2021 the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) will be publishing some FREE online training aimed at all professionals working with children/young people. The focus will be on developing a greater understanding of the link between SLCN and SEMH.
In addition, Plymouth Marjon University Course are delivering a three-day course Keeping Language in Mind – Understanding Children and Young People with Social Emotional Mental Health Needs.
This three-day continuing professional development (CPD) course will provide advanced training on the relationship between language development and social-emotional development. The focus will be on the social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH) of children and adolescents with Developmental Language Disorders (DLD).
You may also be interested in watching this webinar by Professor Karen Bryan OBE about communication, swallowing and mental health.
By watching this keynote address you will hear about:
- The links between mental health and communication and swallowing needs
- The role of speech and language therapy in mental health
- The impact of speech and language therapy in supporting people with mental health disorders
- What needs to happen in mental services for people with communication and swallowing needs
A PowerPoint version of Professor Bryan’s webinar is also available.
The SLCF (Speech, Language and Communication Framework) is a free professional development tool, accessible to all, which sets out the key skills needed to support the speech, language and communication development of all children and young people. It is a self-assessment tool which enables individuals to map out their skills, knowledge and confidence in supporting the development of these essential skills in the children and young people they work with. The SLCF provides users with a personalised analysis of their current confidence levels and offers suggestions for next steps in continuing professional development (CPD).
CPD Online Short Course: An introduction to speech, language and communication
The Inclusion Development Programme (IDP) is part of the government’s strategy to improve outcomes for children with special educational needs and was first outlined in Removing Barriers to Achievement.
Platform 3 is an online route to completing the Level 3 accredited qualification: Supporting Children and Young People’s Speech, Language and Communication.
Developed by The Communication Trust, it supports the continuing professional development of those working with children and young people by boosting the knowledge and skills needed to effectively support all children’s speech, language and communication development and identify those who are struggling.
The Communication Commitment is a free resource designed to support schools in developing a whole-school approach to communication, ensuring that all pupils communicate to the best of their ability.
The Early Years Commitment is divided into five areas, to help you address every aspect of communication development across your early years setting. It’s based on what we know works in nurseries, pre-schools, childminding settings and Children’s Centres.
- Where can I get more information?
These websites are good places to look if you want to do some more research into Speech, Language and Communication Needs.
www.talkingpoint.org.uk – the first stop for information on children’s communication.
The Communication Trust is a coalition of over 50 not-for-profit organisations who work together to support everyone who works with children and young people in England to support their speech, language and communication. The Trust provides useful information and free resources for parents, practitioners and other professionals. You can phone them on 0207 843 2526.
Afasic is a charity that helps children and young people, their families and the professionals working with them. It has a wide variety of free, downloadable resources and other publications and a national helpline – 08453 55 55 77
I-Can is a charity that helps children develop the speech, language and communication skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Phone 0207 843 2510
NAPLIC is for professionals supporting language and communication development.
page updated 11/04/19