What do we mean by speech, language and communication?
Speech – using sounds to make different words when we talk
Language – understanding and using words, combining these to make sentences so that we can express our thoughts and ideas. Language includes spoken words, written words, signing, gestures, pointing to symbols or objects. We also use body language to add or alter the meaning of the words we are using.
Communication – this happens when one person sends a message to another person which they can understand. It is a two-way process. When people respond to one another’s communication we call this interaction. This can be as simple as a smile and nod to show you recognise one another or much more complicated like playing a game, describing how to get to the post office or having a group discussion about climate change.
SLCN stands for Speech, Language and Communication Needs. It is a term used to describe difficulties children/young people have with understanding, talking, saying sounds, and interacting.
Some children/young people might have difficulty in one area of their communication development, whereas others may have multiple needs.
It is estimated that around 10% of children starting school have SLCN – that’s approximately 2-3 in every classroom.
There are lots of reasons children/young people might have SLCN, such as neurodivergence or lack of opportunities to develop language skills. Sometimes children need a little of bit of extra time and practise to develop their speech and language skills but then do not have lifelong difficulties. Sometimes communication difficulties will persist into adulthood.
Knowing about ‘typical speech and language development’ can be helpful to keep track of how children/ young people are progressing. This can help us to support communication for children/ young people who are developing in a neurotypical way and pick up when someone might need extra support.
Children’s language development and parenting advice – BBC Tiny Happy People
When speech, language and communication are developing differently
Not all children/young people develop in this typical way.
Some children/young people may develop their communication skills differently. We can help them best by recognising this and learning how we can be effective communication partners for them.
Some important things to remember
- Communication is not just about talking – people can communicate in many different ways. Some of these ways are things that most people do like talking and pointing or waving. Others are less usual like repeating phrases other people have said (echolalia), leading you by the hand, pointing to a symbol on a board, screaming or sitting down to show they do not want to do something. This is all communication and should be recognised and responded to.
- Behaviour is often a form of communication. If your child or young person does something you do not understand, try to think about why they are doing it and what they might be communicating e.g. I am scared/ I don’t understand/ I don’t know when I can have the toy back again/ I need some space.
- Learn more and try to understand how your child or young person communicates best and what their preferences are.
- Notice what they like to communicate about and go with it.
- Create lots of opportunities through each day for them to communicate with you about things that are important to them.
- Help other people to understand about how your child young person communicates. Putting together a communication passport can be helpful. More information is provided in this link https://www.communicationmatters.org.uk/what-is-aac/types-of-aac/communication-passports/
Some children will frequently repeat words or phrases they have heard other people say or remembered from TV or a book. This is known as echolalia.
Echolalia can be immediate e.g. straight after they hear a phrase. It can also be delayed e.g. they might repeat the phrase much later.
Sometimes this is called ‘Gestalt language learning’. This is becoming increasingly recognised as a different route to learning language for some children.
If you hear your child repeating phrases do not ignore them. Instead try to work out what they might be trying to tell you. It might mean that they do not understand what you said to them, but they do know they are supposed to say something back.
It might be that they link the phrase with a specific situation. Think about the situation when the child might have heard the phrase and what was happening then as this could give some clues. Let other people know this too.
Non-speaking children and young people
Some children and young people will use few or no spoken words as part of their communication. Sometimes the words they do say can be hard to understand.
They should be given the opportunity to try other means of communication. This could be having a set of objects, pictures of photographs that they can show or point to when they want to tell you something. For example, you could stick pictures on the kitchen door so your child can point or show you what they want to eat, or you could show them a photo of the park or the beach so they can choose where they would like to go.
Ten tips for being a good communication partner for younger children
- Get down to the child’s level when you are playing and communicating with them. Smile.
- Try to be face to face, but never force a child to look at you.
- Give your child lots more time to respond when you speak to them and also to tell or show you what they want to tell you.
- Keep it simple and don’t use more words than you need to.
- Show what you mean as well as telling them by using something visual like a picture, photo, object or action along with talking to them. This website has useful ideas and examples. https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/communication/communication-tools/visual-supports
- Use activities that have predictable routines like actions songs or stories with repetitive lines. Give your child space to join in when they can.
- Use activities your child is interested in to encourage interaction. Follow their lead rather than taking over if they have a particular way of playing. Try copying or helping them with it instead.
- Recognise the signs when your child has had enough of interacting. This could be hard to spot like picking at their sleeve. Communication can be tiring so they may need time to do their own thing.
- Put words to your child’s actions if they are not yet talking. For example, if they put your hand on the light switch wanting you to turn it on you can say ‘light on’. Say useful words and phrases that match what your child seems to be focussing on at the time. This is called ‘modelling’. This can help your child learn what these words and phrases mean and when to use them if they can. If they show interest in pictures symbols or signing use these as well.
- Don’t give up. Some children may not seem to be listening and take a long time to respond. However, we can’t always tell what they are taking in and remembering, so give them time.
Additional ideas for being a good communication partner for older children and teenagers
- When you give an instruction, always check the child or young person has understood what you said and knows what to do. Do not assume they are misbehaving just because they aren’t following an instruction. It could be they do not understand the language.
- Give them plenty of time to process what you have said and to put their ideas into words.
- Explain any words you use that the child or young person might not have heard before and be careful of words with more than one meaning e.g. ‘sweet’ can mean cute/ something to eat/ tastes sweet.
- Help them to join in with group conversations. Explain to everyone how to take turns and give every one chance to talk if they want to. The child or young person may need time to sit back and watch others in a group activity first, if it is new.
- Try not to use non-literal language such as idioms like ‘you are flying through this work’ or sarcasm ‘well that was clever’ etc. If you do, then make sure you explain what you mean.
- Visuals will still be useful so do not stop using them. If it is hard to explain something using words, try to draw it. For example, drawing stick figures to make a cartoon to talk through something that happened in the playground. Using a visual task planner to show the different steps needed to complete a task can be helpful. https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/communication/communication-tools/visual-supports
- Communication and interaction can be tiring. Children and young people may not show clearly how hard they are working to communicate. Look out for signs that show you they need time to themselves.
- Try not to take it personally if they say something blunt. They may be saying what they think and do not quite ‘get’ how it might make another person feel.
- Teenagers can be quite self-conscious about talking to adults. Pick a time to talk when they are not tired or hungry. It may be easier to get a conversation going when you are doing something else like going for a walk, going to a café or in the car.
- Try not to ask too many questions all at once and listen more than you speak in conversation.Find out about the child or young person’s interests. Let them know you are genuinely interested and want to hear about what is important to them. Remind them about what they have told you previously to show you were listening, ‘I remember you told me you like Pokémon, I was wondering if you have a favourite?’
- Find out about the child or young person’s interests. Let them know you are genuinely interested and want to hear about what is important to them. Remind them about what they have told you previously to show you were listening, ‘I remember you told me you like Pokémon, I was wondering if you have a favourite?’