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Speech, Language and Communication Needs

What are Speech, Language and Communication Needs?

Speech, language and communication are crucial for reading, learning in school, for socialising and making friends, and for understanding and controlling emotions or feelings.

A child with speech and language needs or SLCN:

  • might have speech that is difficult to understand
  • they might struggle to say words or sentences
  • they may not understand words that are being used, or the instructions they hear
  • they may have difficulties knowing how to talk and listen to others in a conversation

The term speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) encompass a wide range of difficulties related to all aspects of communication in children and young people. These can include difficulties with fluency (stammering), forming sounds and words, formulating sentences, understanding what others say and using language socially (Gascoigne 2015). Children with eating and drinking difficulties can also be referred to speech and language therapists where there is a physiological problem with a child’s swallow. Much research has been devoted to looking at the at risk groups for children with SLCN. The main at risk groups are:

  • Boys
  • Summer born children
  • English as an Additional Language
  • Socially disadvantaged
  • Ethnicity
  • Family history of speech, language and communication disorders.


Speech, Language and Communication Needs, or SLCN, is quite common. It is estimated that around 10% of children starting school have SLCN – that’s approximately 2-3 in every classroom.



Causes of Speech and Language Needs

Speech, Language and Communication Needs can occur as a result of hearing loss, general developmental needs or as part of a disability or medical syndrome, such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or Autistic Spectrum Condition.

Difficulties with talking can also present as a child’s main area of need but without an obvious cause. You may become aware of this if your child is late to talk.

The majority of children, who are late to talk, do not develop persisting difficulties with talking. It is important to distinguish late talkers who go on to ‘catch up’ from children who go on to have persistent difficulties so that appropriate help can be put in place as soon as possible.

The risk factors for persisting problems include:

  • A family history of difficulties with talking or reading and writing and

  • A child having difficulties understanding what others say.


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