Children with speech and language and communication needs.
SLCN (speech, language and communication needs) is an umbrella term to describe a wide range of speech and language difficulties. Other terms you may hear are developmental language disorder (DLD), speech and language difficulties, SLI (specific language impairment), language disorder, speech sound disorder, phonological disorder and articulation disorder, stammering amongst others.
How common is it?
Speech, Language and Communication Needs are quite common. It is thought that around 10% of children starting school have some difficulty with speech or language skills – around 2-3 children in every classroom.
Many children make good progress and do not go on to have persistent difficulties with speech and language.
What causes SLCN?
Some children will have a condition or diagnosis which affects their ability to develop language skills in a typical timeframe. For example:
- Hearing or visual impairment
- Autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Global developmental delay or learning difficulties
- Some syndromes, for example Down syndrome
- Cerebral Palsy
- Cleft lip and palate
Some children with SLCN may have difficulty with no obvious reason. Some of these children will progress fairly quickly with no long term impact. However some children will find speech and language development more difficult and progress is slower.
For these children they may struggle with only one aspect of speech and language or they may have difficulties with several areas.
What might be hard for a child with SLCN?
Areas which might be affected are:
- Understanding words and sentences
- Learning new words
- Combining words into sentences
- Using accurate grammar
- Speech (pronunciation)
- Using language in social situations
- Talking fluently
Further information about some speech and language disorders
Developmental language disorder
Some children who have persisting difficulty with SLCN may go on to receive a diagnosis of DLD (developmental language disorder). A speech and language therapist would make this diagnosis.
Children with DLD will have persistent difficulties with speech or language skills, however do make progress with support and practice.
Cleft Lip and Palate
A cleft palate is a hole or gap affecting the tissues in the palate (roof of the mouth), which is typically repaired by surgery at between 6-12 months of age. Before surgery, air can escape through the nose and so some sounds are difficult for babies to say. Some children may have speech difficulties either because of ongoing difficulties with closing air off (causing nasal sounding speech) or because sounds are not made in the right place in the mouth (causing articulation difficulties).
Children with cleft palate are at higher risk of hearing difficulties caused by fluid build-up inside the ear. These hearing difficulties can have an effect on speech development. All children with cleft palate benefit from regular hearing tests to pick up and treat any problems, and early speech assessment (age 2) to see whether speech therapy is needed.
Speech therapists give advice to try and prevent speech difficulties through advice for parents with a baby with cleft palate. Some children will go on to need speech therapy as they get older and this can be very effective, but some difficulties cannot be helped by therapy alone.
Detailed information about cleft lip and palate and the impact on a child’s speech and language skills is explained here Cleft lip and Palate information leaflet from RCSLT
Many children have a period of stammering when young which gets better as they mature. For a small number of children, the stammering doesn’t go away. Therapy can help support these children and parents/carers although there is no cure for stammering
Stammering is a result of neurological differences in the brain which make it physically hard to speak sometimes. It is not caused by nervousness, anxiety or a lack of confidence.
People who stammer may repeat stretch or get stuck on sounds or words. They may also show tension if they are struggling to speak. This might be in their face, body or breathing. Some stammering is hidden: people may change words, avoid certain situations and even avoid talking. It is often accompanied by painful thoughts and feeling/emotions. More males than females stammer and about 60% have a family member who also stammers. Stammering can be variable so sometimes your child will stammer more than at other times.