Speech Language and Communication Needs

1 January 2017

Communication is a two way process which allows us to express our thoughts and feelings to others, while allowing us in turn to understand what others are trying to convey to us. Communication involves speech and language (verbal) as well as facial expression, gesture and body language (non-verbal). Communication is an essential life skill for children and young people and it underpins their social, emotional and educational development. (Bercow 2008) To communicate effectively we must understand and ‘apply’ the ‘rules’ of the structure used in language and be able to vocalise this through speech.

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We must also hear and understand the speech of others through our ability to listen and to interpret body language and facial expression. Developing and building upon these skills will enable children and young people to interact and relate to others and the world around them. However, if a child or young person has a difficulty in any of these areas – Speech, Language or Communication – then this need must be addressed otherwise it may impact on their behavioural, emotional and social development.

In general, children with developmental language difficulties are at greater risk than typically developing children of having behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. ” (Better Communication Research Programme 2010) Therefore this presentation seeks to highlight the correlation between the Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) of children and young people and how it has a bearing on their behavioural, emotional and social development as well. SECTION TWO

Children and young people’s behaviour can be used as a way of communicating to others and the world around them. Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD) can manifest themselves in a range of ways. Some of these are characterised by the following: – Physical/ Verbal aggression – Anxiety/ Depression – Withdrawn/ Isolated – Hyperactive/ Lacking concentration – Phobias/ Self-harm – Low self-esteem Children and young people with BESD may act unpredictably in a variety of social, personal or physical settings.

These behaviours often times seek to communicate how a child or young person is feeling, although it is often the case that the behaviour is seen as the difficulty rather than the symptom of underlying language difficulty. (Communication Trust 2008) Furthermore, children with SLCN are more likely to have social and emotional difficulties. There is a link between SLCN and BESD (Lindsey,G. & Dockrell, J. 2000). Studies have indicated that behavioural problems account for three quarters of children and young people who had significant language difficulties as well (Ripley, K. & Yull, N. 005). It is also evident that children learn about emotions through play and interact through language.

This in turn enables children to develop skills in managing their behaviour and emotions effectively. However, a child with SLCN may find these scenarios or situations challenging. Therefore a child with language/ communication difficulties in a school may display limited eye contact, have difficulty initiating conversation or staying on the topic of conversation, staying on task and have problems using language to negotiate or argue their point of view with their peers.

Consequently, this will inhibit their ability to develop the skills needed to manage their behaviour and emotions properly. Likewise it can result in social isolation from their peers if they are unable to engage in understanding the ‘rules’ of appropriate behaviours in social situations as a result of their inability to understand fully facial gestures or body language. Evidently, BESD has a bearing on the SLCN’s of children and young people. It hinders the learning of new skills appropriate to a child’s stage of development as well as impacting on their capacity to form satisfying relationships.

The fact is that speech and language occur together with emotional and behavioural development and that they do affect each other powerfully. Being able to communicate through speech and language, but more importantly understand and use communication effectively is critical in supporting and developing the behavioural, emotional and social needs of a child or young person. But “if there is a difficulty understanding what people say, difficulty speaking or forming sounds or words and using language in appropriate social contexts then this can affect a child’s behaviour and emotional development”.

Speech, Language Communication Action Plan 2011) In the short term it can result in low confidence, frustration, anger, difficulty in making friends and difficulty in processing new information and low academic achievement. In the longer term it can seriously affect interpersonal relationships with peers and family with problems tending to increase with age. (Botting et al 2000). It has also been noted that a third of children with communication problems will go on to develop mental illness if untreated. (Clegg et al 1999).

For example, a child with a speech and language impairment such as a stammer will find that their SLCN will impact heavily on their BESD. It can have a negative impact on their academic performance and relationships with their peers and teachers. There is also a growing link between being bullied and having emotional, academic and even physical difficulties. (Communication Trust 2008) A stammer can be very debilitating for children in a social setting. It affects their self-esteem and self-image. Within school they are more susceptible to being bullied, being withdrawn and developing social phobias (Murphy et al 2007).

If untreated this will continue into adulthood and manifest itself in various anxiety disorders. (Craig &Tran 2006). Another example of how SLCN can impact on BESD is highlighted in the case of a child with ASD. The child may find it difficult to read facial expression or grasp the humour shared by their peers and consequently may react in a way that is not socially in tune with the group or acceptable. In not being understood they can display behaviour that is deemed inappropriate. Emotionally they are frustrated and can become withdrawn.

Not being able to interact on an equal par with their peers which can result in social exclusion and isolation. The child may feel socially inept which can lead to low self-esteem and other difficulties.The Bercow report set out to examine the services used for children and young people with SLCN’s and to identify areas that needed to be developed further to enhance their quality and provide better support for parents. As well as stressing a number of key areas that are essential to help tackle SLCN’s in children and young people.

The Bercow report illustrated the following: Communication is crucial: i. e. communication between parents, therapists etc. Early Identification and Intervention is paramount: early identification in the child’s life and intervention to support the child and family provides “ a better chance of tackling problems, communicating well and making progress”. (Bercow 2008) Early identification and intervention is necessary for without it there are higher risks of lower educational attainment of behavioural problems, of emotional and psychological difficulties.

A continuum of services around the family is needed: the assistance and support for families will only be met when services are designed and delivered in a way that parents find understandable and accessible and that these services of SLCN reach across the whole age range and the level of need is addressed. A more collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach to working is critical: All agencies and professionals need tighter and a more integrated approach to work along with continuous professional development and training in order to ensure optimum support for children and their families who have SLCN.

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