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, dyspraxia, speech sound disorder, phonological disorder, articulation disorder and stammering amongst others. For more information on these terms, take a look at our Jargon buster
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
However some young children with SLCN may have difficulties with no obvious cause. In this group of children, a significant proportion will progress fairly quickly with no long term impact. However some children will find speech and language development more difficult and we may consider a specific diagnosis.
What might be hard for a child with SLCN?
Areas which might be affected are:
- Understanding words and sentences
- Remembering instructions
- Learning new words
- Combining words into sentences
- Using accurate grammar
- Speech (pronunciation)
- Using language in social situations
- Talking fluently (stammering)
Further information about some speech and language disorders
Developmental language disorder
Some children have on-going speech, language and communication difficulties. They may go on to receive a diagnosis of Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). There is no known cause for DLD and DLD is not caused by medical conditions such as hearing impairment and autism.
This diagnosis would not usually be given until a child is at least 5 years old. A speech and language therapist would make this diagnosis.
Children with DLD may have difficulties with:
- Understanding spoken language
- Remembering instructions
- Using spoken language to get their message across
- Learning and remembering words
- Putting sentences together
- Using the correct sounds when talking
However, every child with DLD is unique and will need an assessment by a speech and language therapist to understand what help they will need. Speech and language therapists will recommend strategies to use at home and school to help with communication. At some points, they may ask your child to practise activities to learn new language skills. We may also advise parents and school staff to attend training to help children with DLD.
Although DLD is a long term condition, children can make progress with support and practice.
Children with DLD find it helpful if you
- show them as well as tell them information
- use simple language
- use repetition
- give extra time to listen and process what you have said
Liaison with school can be helpful as DLD can have an impact on a child/ young person’s learning and achievement at school.
For more information on DLD visit:
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/stuttering when young which stops as they mature. For a small number of children, the stammering doesn’t go away. Therapy can help support these children and parents/carers.
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 can often be 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.