source : http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/
Speech, language or communication impairments
A significant problem with speech, language or communication is one of the most common developmental difficulties in children. In some cases, the language problems arise as a result of conditions such as a learning disability or a hearing impairment. In other cases, however, there is no obvious reason for the child’s difficulties. Such children are usually described as having a ‘specific language (or speech) impairment’ (SLI for short). It is to help these children that Afasic was founded in 1968.
Speech and language are extremely complex, and a lot of different things can go wrong with their development. Some children are described as having a ‘language delay’, which strictly speaking means that their language is developing in the usual way but at a slower rate than in most children their age. However, many professionals use the term ‘language delay’ to mean any type of speech or language impairment. Some children, though, have a speech, language or communication disorder which means that one or more aspects of their language is developing atypically. Speech, language and communication comprise a number of different skills, any of which might fail to develop properly.
Some children have difficulty articulating some or all of the sounds that go to make up speech (‘d’, ‘g’, ‘s’, ‘w’, etc) or putting them together to make words. Their speech may sound very unclear, and, in the worst cases, it may be impossible for other people to understand what they are saying.
Children with language problems may have difficulty understanding language (this is known as ‘receptive’ language) and/or with producing words and putting them together to make coherent sentences (‘expressive’ language).
Communication problems involve a difficulty with responding to and using language appropriately in different contexts. Children with communication disorders often have difficulties with social interaction generally and some of them may be described as having an autistic spectrum disorder.
Many specific speech and language impairments can be overcome completely if children are give appropriate help. Depending on the nature and severity of the difficulty, this is likely to mean appropriate levels of speech and language therapy and perhaps specialist teaching or other support at school. Children with severe speech and language impairments often spend some years in language units. There are special classes attached to mainstream schools which provide intensive speech and language therapy, and a curriculum which is modified to meet the needs of children with speech and language impairments. There are also a small number of special schools around the country that cater for children with speech and language difficulties.
What often proves difficult for parents is accessing the right help. Speech, language and communication impairments are a ‘hidden disability’. Children with these difficulties look perfectly ‘normal’ and their speech may not be obviously ‘odd’, at least to the casual listener. Even if people who know or meet the child sense that there is something ‘not quite right’, they do not always correctly identify the problem as being with speech and language. The very low levels of awareness of speech and language impairments among the general public does not help here. There remains an assumption that ‘all children talk eventually’.
This situation is not helped by the fact that many very young children of two and three who are slow to talk catch up spontaneously by the time they start school. As a result, many professionals who lack experience of children with speech and language impairments are often very dismissive of parents’ initial concerns. We hear from many parents that persuading their GPs, health visitors, and children’s schools that their children need assessment or extra help has been an uphill struggle. Sometimes the only tangible sign of a problem is a failure to progress satisfactorily at school or difficult behaviour and parents often feel that they themselves are being blamed for their children’s difficulties, either implicitly or explicitly.
Afasic exists to help parents (and professionals) understand their children’s difficulties and secure the right help for them. We run a helpline (aimed chiefly at parents) which is open between 10.30 am and 2.30 pm, Monday to Friday. Afasic also produces a range of free and low-cost publications and issues a newsletter three times a year to members. We organize training for parents and professionals, and rates are reduced for members.
The Afasic website has recently been updated, and we have collaborated with the charity ICAN and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists on a website about speech and language development and difficulties in children: www.talkingpoint.org.uk. Future objectives include seeing better recognition of the needs of older children and young people with unresolved speech and language impairments and ensuring that appropriate provision is available for them.
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