Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)

Children with speech, language and communication needs find it difficult to communicate with others.

This may be because they find it difficult to listen, unable to say what they want to, they do not understand the words that are being used or they do not know how to have a conversation. It may be a combination of these problems or it may be that they do not have enough words, so they do not talk as well as they should for their age.

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Identifying speech, language and communication needs

Children will develop their speech and communication from when they are babies. This will continue to develop at different rates as they get older. Some will develop their speech and language quickly, while others may take longer.

Some children may be identified as having

  • delayed speech and/or language development where they are developing in the typical way, just a bit slower than expected
  • phonological disorders, which affects the development of the speech sound system
  • articulation difficulties which affects the child’s ability to produce specific speech sounds
  • developmental language disorder (DLD) which is a condition where children have problems understanding and/or using spoken language
  • verbal dyspraxia, a condition where children have difficulty in making and co-ordinating the precise movements needed to produce clear speech with their mouths
  • stammering, when a child’s speech is affected, for example how they speak is jerky, they cannot seem to get started with talking and/or they repeat sounds in words or repeat part of the word
  • social communication difficulties, which refers to the social use of language. These difficulties arise when a child is unaware of the appropriate use of and interpretation of both verbal and non-verbal language in social situations. Some children with social communication difficulties may go on to get a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

It is not always easy to spot if your child has a SLCN. Whilst it may be fairly straightforward to identify a child who has unclear speech, other difficulties with talking are not always easy to spot.  SLCN may be hidden behind difficulties with paying attention, following instructions or getting on with others.

The following charities have resources available for children, parents and professionals to use.

ICAN CHARITY is the children's communication charity.

Afasic provides a helpline for families regarding Speech and language needs.

National Autistic Society has information, advice and resources.

What to do if I have concerns and how to request help

If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, you can contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service in the following ways:

All Ages

You can call the Speech & Language Therapy Advice Line: 07825 016 335

This line operates every Wednesday from 9am-12pm throughout the year, including school holidays (excluding Bank Holidays).  

Email the Speech and Language Therapy Service team with your query and someone will reply with information about what to do next.

Early Years telephone drop in

A telephone drop in line for anyone with a child aged between 0-5 to talk about their child’s speech and language development.

  • Telephone: 01454 862438. This line operates every Monday between 09.30-12.30pm (excluding Bank Holidays).

School Age service

All local state schools and academies have a Link SLT. They are the point of contact for any SLT concerns. This includes the Special Schools and Units. Your school SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) will have their contact details or you can call the Speech and Language Therapy Advice Line or email the Speech and Language Therapy Service team to find these out. 

Training for parents 

Our training team are involved in delivering courses to both parents and education staff across Early Years and School Age.  Visit the Community Children’s Health Partnership website for more information and for other useful websites.

What speech and language therapy (SLT) does

Speech and language therapy is concerned with the management of disorders of speech, language, communication and swallowing. 

They assess, diagnose and provide advice and support for children with a range of speech, language and communication difficulties. Main areas of work include;

  • speech sound difficulties (depending on a child’s age)
  • difficulties with understanding and using language e.g. vocabulary development, language processing, word finding and putting words into sentences
  • social interaction skills and abilities at a range of levels

For some children with complex needs, speech and language therapists also assess eating, drinking and swallowing abilities and offer advice and support as needed.

Find out more about speech, language and communication need referrals and what support is available before assessment.

Alternative augmentative communication aids

The CCHP Speech and Language Therapy service offers a core service for children who require alternative and augmentative communication aids (AAC).  Children referred into the service with identified AAC needs can access an assessment and sessions with a specialist therapist.  The therapist will work closely with your child, the family and education setting to ensure that everyone understands how to use the child’s communication aid to support and develop functional communication through the aid.

The therapist also can support your child’s application to AAC West should this be clinically appropriate.

The AAC West of England Specialist Team (AAC West) Service can help with aids that help a person to communicate effectively when they have little, or no speech. 

This will depend on an assessment as to what help and support you may receive. You can find out what to expect in an assessment on the North Bristol NHS Trust website.