User perspectives on speech and language therapy
According to The Communication Trust, “50% of children in areas of social disadvantage start school with language delay” […], “7% of all children have a speech and language impairment; it’s the most prevalent childhood disability, but a condition that is much misunderstood” and “at least 3% of all children have SLCN linked with other impairments.” It is therefore clear that children and young adults with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are very common and often under-identified. In fact, when a child has a speech, language or a communication problem, there could be many reasons and there are many possible ways to help them. Firstly, it is essential to understand the reason why the child is experiencing communication difficulties and then will be possible to plan how to help the child.
If a parent or a carer is worried about their child’s speech, language or communication skills, should promptly visit the general practitioner (GP) and seek medical advice. The GP will be able to identify SLCN arranging or providing the appropriate help. Initially, a referral could be made in order to identify if there is a visual/hearing impairment or other specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and general learning needs. In fact, most children with SEN have some sort of SLCN.
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In case doctors or practitioners identify problems such as voice difficulties, stammering (difficulty speaking fluently), speech sound problems (the speech is unclear or too difficult to understand), the child will need to be referred directly to speech and language care services (NHS Trust). In case that communication difficulties are linked to other learning disabilities, an Educational Psychologist (EP) will need to make an assessment. The Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) service aim to meet the needs of children or young people with communication delay or evident needs in speech, language, communication but also look at problems in the areas of eating, drinking and swallowing. Once it is clear what type of support is needed for the welfare of the child, professionals, parents, and carers need to work together. For example, if a teacher or a teaching assistant sees that a child is struggling to communicate with his/her peers, the reason may be that the child simply has English as an additional language (EAL). In this case, the teacher should arrange a meeting with the parents or carers in order to discuss how they can help the child with their English and communication. If the child’s difficulties lie only in acquiring English as an additional language could happen that the speech service won’t accept the referral.
Due to the high importance of an early identification of a delay in the areas of language and communication, everyone around children needs to use the strategies of systematic observations as part of a daily routine.