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Barnsley Children’s Speech and Language Therapy

Helping you to understand some of the clinical words that we might use.

There are times that using clinical or medical words is really important, especially in some reports, so that other professionals  fully understand  your child’s difficulties and how to help them.   We try hard not to use too much clinical language when we are talking to children and their families, however sometimes it slips out!

We are all learning new words all the time, so if you do hear or read something that you aren’t sure about, you should ask your therapist and they will be very happy to explain.

Have a look at the list below to see some of the words and phrases that we might use or you might read about.

AAC: This is an abbreviation for ‘Alternative and Augmentative Communication’. It is mostly used for people who are not able to use any spoken words. It includes low tech systems like pictures and signs and high tech systems such as ipads and specialist communication aids

Aphasia:  Much more common for adults but it can very occasionally occur in children. Aphasia is a partial or total loss of the ability to talk and/or understand spoken or written language, usually as a result of damage to the brain. Older people can find it hard to re-learn these language skills, but children are likely to make better progress

Articulation:  Articulation is the ability to move all of the parts of your mouth, for example lips and tongue, to make the individual speech sounds clearly. A difficulty with articulation might mean that your child can’t say a specific sound and/or they have difficulty putting the different sounds together to pronounce words accurately. However not all difficulties with pronouncing words are due to an articulation problem. A speech and language therapist can work out the reason that your child has pronunciation difficulties.

Assessment: We use different tests to work out your child’s has difficulties and strengths with any aspects of communication. Sometimes, this will be answering questions about a set of pictures, however it can also be more informal, for example looking at a book together, watching your child play or having a chat with your child.

Attention: The ability to focus on a task or activity and eventually to be able to easily switch attention between tasks. Attention skills start to develop through early childhood.

Audiology:  The department who would assess your child’s hearing. Audiology is also known as the hearing clinic.

Auditory Discrimination: The ability to recognise the differences between speech sounds. For example, as an adult we hear the sounds ‘d’ and ‘g’ as  different sounds, however for some children they may hear these two sounds as very similar and this would result in difficulties learning to say these sounds

Auditory Memory: A very specific short term memory skill that allows us to retain what we have heard long enough to process, understand and act upon it.

Autism spectrum disorder:  Also referred to asAutism’ or ‘ASD’ this is a neuro-developmental condition which would be present from birth, but may not become obvious until after a child 2-3 years old, and sometimes later. The condition results in persistent difficulty with social communication and restricted/repetitive patterns of behaviour.   The concept of the spectrum has been used in the last few years to highlight that there is a high level of variation in terms of overall severity and in how difficulties present.

British Sign Language (BSL): The language of the Deaf community in England, Scotland and Wales. BSL is a visual language system which has its own grammar (including grammatical facial expression) and idioms. It is not a signed form of English.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS):  A  relatively rare Speech Sound Disorder (SSD) in which a child has difficulty planning and sequencing the movements required for speech, and difficulty with prosody. In the UK this is now more commonly known as Developmental verbal dyspraxia (DVD)

Cleft lip and palate: A condition which is usually identified at birth where the roof of the mouth or the lip is not completely formed. This can result in difficulties with hearing, eating, drinking and learning to speak clearly.

Commenting: Talking about what the child is doing or is involved in – avoiding the use of excessive questioning. This is a strategy that helps children learn about language.

Communication Environment: Who you are talking to and where you talk to them.

Comprehension: Understanding what is said. We are usually referring to verbal comprehension rather than written comprehension. This is also referred to as receptive language

Delay: Typical speech and/or language development, but slower, so it is more similar to a child at a younger age

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD): A diagnosis of a speech or language disorder which is not associated with another condition (e.g. autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or an acquired brain injury).

Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD):  A motor speech disorder affecting the planning and coordination of muscle movements. Speech may be characterised by inconsistent use of sounds, visible groping for sounds, inability to articulate sound sequences when asked to do so on command, after imitation and difficulties increasing with length and complexity of sound sequence.

Disorder: Speech and/or language development which doesn’t follow the ‘typical’ developmental pattern.

Dysfluency: See stammering

Echolalia: Repetition of another’s words or language in a non-meaningful way.

Expressive Language: The sentences we make which includes the word choices, the order of the words and the grammar rules so that sentences make sense to the listener. We are often referring to spoken language, but expressive language can also be used to refer to written form, signs or symbols

Grammar: The rules followed in any given language to accurately express your meaning. For example, changing the ending of a word to show past, present or future tense.

Hypernasal: Speech sounds affected by too much air flow down the nose.

Hyponasal: Speech sounds affected by too little air flow down the nose.

Inference:  Understanding what someone means, using what they say, implied or assumed information and a general understanding of the world. For example, if a teacher says ‘I think we need our coats on’ your child might ‘infer’ that he is going out to play or perhaps that it is raining, even though that information was not stated. In schools, the term inference is often used in relation to reading comprehension, but it is a skill that we use every day in general communication.

Information Carrying Words (ICW): The key/ important words in a sentence that must be understood to understand the general meaning of a sentence. For example, “Where are the dog’s feet?”  This is five words but only two information carrying words (dog and feet).

Intonation: The rhythm of how we speak. This includes the speed, the tone, and which words are stressed.

Makaton: A simplified sign and symbol system based on British Sign Language (BSL) and natural gesture. This may be recommended as a way to help your child learn to understand words, or for some children as a way to communicate what they want to say.

Modelling: Talking so that your child hears good models of language. This can help them to learn new words, learn about making sentences and also help them learn how to pronounce words. For example, a child will learn more about language if they hear you say ‘it’s a tall giraffe’ rather than asking them ‘what’s this?’

Non-literal Language: Language which doesn’t mean exactly what you say. This can include commonly used phrases such as ‘give me a minute’ (which doesn’t mean you will be exactly 60 seconds), idioms such ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ or sarcasm and jokes.

Non-verbal Communication: The parts of communication which are not verbal. These include the use of gesture, body language, facial expression, eye contact etc.

Phonology: The  sounds used in speech and the rules about how they are used in your language.

Phonological Awareness:  An awareness of sounds within words, for example, identifying the first sound in a word, which words rhyme and the how many syllables are in a word.

Phonological Disorder:  A difficulty learning to use the speech sounds that are appropriate for the individual’s age and accent. This would lead to saying words where sounds  are omitted or added or substituting one sound for another. This would typically result in speech that is difficult to understand.

Pragmatics: The rules about how we use language in social communication for example; turn taking, initiating and responding to conversation, maintaining a topic of conversation and providing an appropriate amount of detail and context. It also includes the skill to change the way we interact depending on who we are talking to

Pre-verbal Skills: Skills needed before language can develop, for example, attention and listening, joint attention, turn taking, pretend play.


Semantics: What we know about a word. For example ‘a banana’… is a fruit, is yellow, has a tube like shape, has a thick skin, is eaten by monkeys. It also includes information to help it be used in sentences, for example it is a noun, to make a plural we add a ‘s’, it is often used with the verbs eaten and peeled.

SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Needs) – SLCN is an ‘umbrella’ term covering children who do not develop speech and language as expected. This is often the terminology used within schools

Social Communication difficulties/disorder:  Children with social communication difficulties/disorder find it harder to use language for social purposes for example in conversation, story-telling and may find it harder to understand non-literal language. They have difficulties with developing pragmatic skills and may find friendships harder to maintain.

Specific Language Impairment (SLI):  A old term for developmental language disorder.

Speech: We use this term to describe the way that sounds, words and sentences are pronounced. The ability to use all of the sounds of speech develops over time, and some sounds may not reach maturity until about 8 years old as they are harder to produce.

Speech Delay: Speech development that is following a normal pattern, but typical of a younger child.

Speech Disorder: Speech development that follows an atypical/irregular pattern.

SLT or SALT: Speech and Language Therapy/Therapist. You might also see SLT referred to in schools, but for them this means senior leadership team

Speech Sound Disorder (SSD): An overarching term that describes a difficulty with the development of a child’s speech. This does not describe the reason for the difficulty which could be phonological, articulation or a motor speech difficulty.

Stammering: Interruptions to the smooth or fluent flow of speech, including sound and word repetitions, prolonging sounds and tense ‘blocks’ on sounds. This is also commonly referred to as a stuttering.   Some therapists also use the term dysfluency.

Stuttering: See stammering

Syntax: The order that we combine words to make a sentence.

Verbal Communication: The parts of communication which use spoken language

Verbal Reasoning: Thinking about and solving problems using language.

Visuals: The use of a visual format to support a child’s communication (both understanding and expressing themselves). The visual can be in the form of an object, a photograph, a drawing or written words. Visuals can also be helpful in supporting children to understand their environment, for example visual timetables .

Vocabulary: The words a child knows and uses. This includes their receptive vocabulary (the words they understand) and their expressive vocabulary ( the words they say).

Voice: The quality of the sound produced when speaking.  This is not a common area of difficulty for young children, however difficulties might be described with the quality (breathy, hoarse, husky), the pitch (higher or lower than is typical for age and gender) or the volume (louder or quieter than the environment demands)

Word Finding Difficulties: difficulty retrieving a known target word from memory. It can feel similar to having a word on the tip of your tongue, but would occur much more frequently. A word finding difficulty might also involve frequently saying the wrong word, for example calling an apple an orange.



As a service we won’t use abbreviations in a report without explaining what they mean.  However, just in case you come across any  unfamiliar abbreviations, we have collated a list of the most commonly used abbreviations  here

AAC – Alternative and Augmentative Communication

ACE – Assessment of Comprehension and Expression

ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

CAF – Common Assessment Framework

CELF – Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals  ( a language assessment)

CIN – Child in Need

DLS – Derbyshire Language Scheme ( a language assessment)

EHA – Early Help Assessment

EHCP – Education, Health and Care plan

EYFS – Early Years Foundation Stage

IDDSI – International dysphagia diet standardisation initiative

HV – Health Visitor

LAC – Looked After Child

OT – Occupational Therapy

PCI – Parent Child Interaction

PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System

PIA – Professional Information and Advice

RAPT – Renfrew Action Picture Test ( a language assessment)

SEN – Special Educational Needs

SENDCo – Special Educational Needs and disability Co-ordinator

TA – Teaching Assistant

TAC – Team round the Child

TAF – Team around the Family

TALC – Test of Language Comprehension ( a language assessment)

VPD/VPI – Velopharyngeal Dysfunction/Insufficiency

WNL – Within Normal Limits





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