SLCN

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February 9, 2023

What exactly is SLCN and how can it impact a child's development in school?

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Sewell, A (2023, February 09). SLCN. Retrieved from https://www.structural-learning.com/post/slcn

What is SLCN?

Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) is the term given to describe the extensive range of needs related to all aspects of communication – from understanding others to forming sounds, words and sentences to expressing ideas and emotions and using language socially.

The following article seeks to unpick the term SLCN (Speech, language and communication needs) and its prevalence in mainstream schooling. Research suggests that SLCN is not due to developmental delay but may be attributed to the programming of neurological pathways that contribute to SLCN.

Other explanations can be drawn from life experiences and the child's habitus. Within this article, there are suggestions on ways to support language development in those categorized s SLCN.

All research agrees that communication skills are essential in mainstream schools as a pre-requisite to success in the real world, which is why it is necessary to support SLCN.  

It is estimated that 10% of all children have long-term or persistent speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). It is often termed the hidden disability with little support or understanding of the broader problem. It can often impact the child's behavior, motivation and general success.   

One of the key aims of the new Education and Inspection framework is to focus more on how settings are using their curriculums to enhance experiences and learning; thinking and talking about a wide range of experiences that prepare children for what comes next is essential for success. By putting in place these initiatives, educators are thinking about SLCN in terms of development therefore, through interventions hope to support those with SLCN  to achieve educational norms and milestones.   

The term SLCN is used in two different ways in educational contexts. The Bercow Review (2008) used SLCN as a broad and inclusive term to cover all children with speech, language and
communication needs, including those with primary difficulties with speech, language and
communication and also those conditions' needs are secondary to other developmental factors
such as hearing impairment or cognitive impairment.

This breadth of use is not consistent with the classification systems used by the DfE to classify special educational needs where SLCN has a narrower primary focus on language and excludes children with ASD, sensory, more general cognitive difficulties or primary behavior difficulties.

Researchers and speech and language therapists (SLTs) describe a further cohort of children, those with specific language impairment (SLI), which is, effectively, a subset of the children within the narrower
SLCN category. These children are defined as having a primary language difficulty which is
not associated with any other developmental difficulty, including autism, hearing impairment
or other neuro-developmental impairment.

Suggestions for developmental language delay have suggested cleft palate, and hearing disorders as reasons for SLCN. Therefore, two conflicting ideas are present in education, one which seeks to find a definitive developmental problem for SLCN  and one that seeks to discover social, economic or emotional reasons for SLCN.

It may suggest that there is a need to look at the broader picture of social and cultural experiences to find what affects language development. When thinking about SLCN we need to take a humanist, individualistic perspective for each child than implementing a range of holistic and broad strategies.

SLCN and brain development

Friederici's (2006) studies on the neural basis of normal language development suggest that the brain systems underlying language processes are in place in early development, suggesting a genetic link with success in language formation.

Impaired language development can be correlated with abnormalities in the neurophysiological patterns of different aspects of language processing and with abnormalities in the structures of areas known to support language processes in the brain. Essentially, the brain functions and genetic code could be the reason for SLCN.  

Developmental language disorder (DLD) is a type of SLCN that affects a child's ability to understand and use language. Research has shown that DLD is linked to differences in brain development, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for language processing.

These differences can affect a child's ability to process and produce language, leading to difficulties in communication and learning. However, early intervention and appropriate support can help children with DLD improve their language skills and overcome these challenges.

SLCN Model
SLCN Model

 

Impact of SLCN on child development

Difficulties with SLC can have far-reaching consequences across the whole spectrum of a child and young person's development. If a child cannot communicate effectively, their learning will be inhibited as they try to make sense of the learning being presented.

The use of tools such as active learning, mastery, scaffolding, and generative learning will not support the child as each of these relies on effective communication techniques. From a perspective of nature versus nurture it could be argued that if effective communication is a result of the child's experiences pre-school, then it could be suggested that parents being not aware of the value of books or talking to their children are setting up their children to fail.

Bennett (2009) suggests that if parents are not equipped with cultural capital then their children will be unable to be successful in the education system as they cannot handle the abstract or formality of the education system. If a capitalist perspective is adopted, then the whole of the education system in Britain can be said to be founded on middle-class values and beliefs to which some sections of society do not have access to. 

Such ideas support much of Bernstein's work on language registers and can link in with class and social mobility, supporting the ideas of Bourdieu, habitus and cultural capital. Cultural capital is understood to contribute to 'getting on in life' or 'social status', i.e. being able to perform well in school, knowing how to talk in different social groups or societies, accessing higher education and being successful in work or a career (Cowley, 2019; Mickelburgh, 2019; Moylett, 2019).

Evidence suggests that the cultural capital passed on through families helps children do better in school. The education system values the knowledge and ways of thinking developed by acquiring cultural capital, both abstract and formal.

As adults, cultural capital helps individuals to network with other adults who have a similar body of knowledge and experiences and who in turn, control access to high-paying professions and prestigious leadership roles. Without this knowledge of how to speak to a variety of groups, use a variety of language registers and decode words, children are being failed by the education system with life chances after formal schooling limited.   

 

Impacts of SLCN
Impacts of SLCN

Strategies to promote cultural capital and develop language 

  • Recognize the diversity of children's home experiences, and avoid assumptions about different cultural backgrounds, customs and experiences. Get to know the child and their family. 
  • An awareness of and understanding that children will have varied ways of expressing their emotions and showing how they feel through different behavior.
  • Incorporate a variety of materials and artefacts in your classroom that represent the different cultures and languages in your community, such as dual-language books, signs and labels using home-languages or scripts, play materials or soft furnishings.
  • Share the setting's and practitioners' own cultures, including the setting's history (if relevant) and some of the skills and abilities of staff.
  • The local area will provide real and meaningful opportunities to deepen learning and increase understanding of the cultural richness of the area in which children and families live. Many areas will have cultural heritage officers who are only too willing to support families, children and providers to take part in activities, events or visits.

SLCN support strategies
SLCN support strategies

Addressing Speech, Language and Communication Needs in EYFS

Based on the research and resources available, here are nine practical strategies for addressing Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) in Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) settings:

  1. Create a Language-Rich Environment: Encourage language acquisition by providing a stimulating environment filled with interesting objects, pictures, and books that promote discussion. Use clear, simple, and typical speech to model correct language use.
  2. Use Visual Aids: Visual aids can help children understand and follow instructions. This can include visual timetables, symbols, or gestures. Visual aids can be particularly beneficial for children with language difficulties.
  3. Provide Thinking Time: After asking a question, allow children time to process the information and formulate a response. This 'thinking time' can be particularly beneficial for children with SLCN.
  4. Promote Social Skills: Encourage children to interact with their peers and adults. Role-play and group activities can be particularly effective in promoting these skills.
  5. Use Speech Sounds: Incorporate activities that help children recognize and use speech sounds. This can include rhymes, songs, and games.
  6. Address Behavioural Issues: Poor behaviour can sometimes be a sign of communication difficulties. By addressing SLCN, you may also see an improvement in behaviour.
  7. Work with Parents and Carers: Parents and carers can play a crucial role in supporting their child's speech and language development. Provide them with strategies that they can use at home.
  8. Use a Multisensory Approach: Incorporate activities that involve the use of multiple senses. This can help children to understand and remember new information.
  9. Seek Professional Support: If a child continues to struggle with speech and language, it may be necessary to seek support from a speech and language therapist or other professional.

For example, a teacher might use visual aids to help a child understand a new concept. They might show the child a picture of a dog while saying the word 'dog', helping the child to associate the image with the word.

According to Dr. Sally McLeod, "Communication is both a human right and an essential function of being human." This underscores the importance of addressing SLCN in EYFS settings.

A study found that an estimated 7% -10% of the world's population experience communication disability. This highlights the prevalence of SLCN and the need for effective strategies to address these needs in educational settings.

For further reading, consider these academic sources: "Communication disability in a global context" and "Provocative statements: A global call for change in the speech-language therapy profession".

Other problems to consider with SLCN

As a consequence of comprehension difficulties, some children may not understand the instructions given in the classroom,  may copy other people or displays difficult behavior to hide their difficulties. Behavior such as this is often explained as being a characteristic of autism, bad parenting or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) As a result, the child becomes disengaged and learning is affected. 

Expressive language difficulties may mean that a child can't share their ideas or opinions and that their message doesn't come across clearly, and that they can become frustrated and isolated. If it is time-consuming for a child to articulate their ideas,  others including, peers and adults, may talk to them less, include them less in questioning and recap and exclude them from classroom activity.  

Communication difficulties may mean that the young person interrupts and doesn't make eye contact in a way that encourages good turn-taking, meaning that others get offended and the young person has difficulty forming and maintaining positive social relationships.

Speech difficulties may mean that it is time-consuming for the child to get their message across, that people talk to them less to avoid misunderstanding, and the child can't contribute and is excluded.

Speech difficulties may arise due to the typical process of teaching children to read, which is heavily focused on phonics and phonological pronunciation. The use of a nonverbal reading approach may be useful in this situation as it uses the child's internal voice with the teacher or support worker sounding out the words and letters whilst the child follows the words. Comprehension becomes a shared experience and can be checked through the use of word identification when the adult reads the words.  

The term SLCN is often overlooked or linked to developmental delay. Strategies that are used to support SLCN are often generic. Research on SLCN is ongoing, as are support mechanisms for individuals with the condition.  

 

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What is SLCN?

Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) is the term given to describe the extensive range of needs related to all aspects of communication – from understanding others to forming sounds, words and sentences to expressing ideas and emotions and using language socially.

The following article seeks to unpick the term SLCN (Speech, language and communication needs) and its prevalence in mainstream schooling. Research suggests that SLCN is not due to developmental delay but may be attributed to the programming of neurological pathways that contribute to SLCN.

Other explanations can be drawn from life experiences and the child's habitus. Within this article, there are suggestions on ways to support language development in those categorized s SLCN.

All research agrees that communication skills are essential in mainstream schools as a pre-requisite to success in the real world, which is why it is necessary to support SLCN.  

It is estimated that 10% of all children have long-term or persistent speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). It is often termed the hidden disability with little support or understanding of the broader problem. It can often impact the child's behavior, motivation and general success.   

One of the key aims of the new Education and Inspection framework is to focus more on how settings are using their curriculums to enhance experiences and learning; thinking and talking about a wide range of experiences that prepare children for what comes next is essential for success. By putting in place these initiatives, educators are thinking about SLCN in terms of development therefore, through interventions hope to support those with SLCN  to achieve educational norms and milestones.   

The term SLCN is used in two different ways in educational contexts. The Bercow Review (2008) used SLCN as a broad and inclusive term to cover all children with speech, language and
communication needs, including those with primary difficulties with speech, language and
communication and also those conditions' needs are secondary to other developmental factors
such as hearing impairment or cognitive impairment.

This breadth of use is not consistent with the classification systems used by the DfE to classify special educational needs where SLCN has a narrower primary focus on language and excludes children with ASD, sensory, more general cognitive difficulties or primary behavior difficulties.

Researchers and speech and language therapists (SLTs) describe a further cohort of children, those with specific language impairment (SLI), which is, effectively, a subset of the children within the narrower
SLCN category. These children are defined as having a primary language difficulty which is
not associated with any other developmental difficulty, including autism, hearing impairment
or other neuro-developmental impairment.

Suggestions for developmental language delay have suggested cleft palate, and hearing disorders as reasons for SLCN. Therefore, two conflicting ideas are present in education, one which seeks to find a definitive developmental problem for SLCN  and one that seeks to discover social, economic or emotional reasons for SLCN.

It may suggest that there is a need to look at the broader picture of social and cultural experiences to find what affects language development. When thinking about SLCN we need to take a humanist, individualistic perspective for each child than implementing a range of holistic and broad strategies.

SLCN and brain development

Friederici's (2006) studies on the neural basis of normal language development suggest that the brain systems underlying language processes are in place in early development, suggesting a genetic link with success in language formation.

Impaired language development can be correlated with abnormalities in the neurophysiological patterns of different aspects of language processing and with abnormalities in the structures of areas known to support language processes in the brain. Essentially, the brain functions and genetic code could be the reason for SLCN.  

Developmental language disorder (DLD) is a type of SLCN that affects a child's ability to understand and use language. Research has shown that DLD is linked to differences in brain development, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for language processing.

These differences can affect a child's ability to process and produce language, leading to difficulties in communication and learning. However, early intervention and appropriate support can help children with DLD improve their language skills and overcome these challenges.

SLCN Model
SLCN Model

 

Impact of SLCN on child development

Difficulties with SLC can have far-reaching consequences across the whole spectrum of a child and young person's development. If a child cannot communicate effectively, their learning will be inhibited as they try to make sense of the learning being presented.

The use of tools such as active learning, mastery, scaffolding, and generative learning will not support the child as each of these relies on effective communication techniques. From a perspective of nature versus nurture it could be argued that if effective communication is a result of the child's experiences pre-school, then it could be suggested that parents being not aware of the value of books or talking to their children are setting up their children to fail.

Bennett (2009) suggests that if parents are not equipped with cultural capital then their children will be unable to be successful in the education system as they cannot handle the abstract or formality of the education system. If a capitalist perspective is adopted, then the whole of the education system in Britain can be said to be founded on middle-class values and beliefs to which some sections of society do not have access to. 

Such ideas support much of Bernstein's work on language registers and can link in with class and social mobility, supporting the ideas of Bourdieu, habitus and cultural capital. Cultural capital is understood to contribute to 'getting on in life' or 'social status', i.e. being able to perform well in school, knowing how to talk in different social groups or societies, accessing higher education and being successful in work or a career (Cowley, 2019; Mickelburgh, 2019; Moylett, 2019).

Evidence suggests that the cultural capital passed on through families helps children do better in school. The education system values the knowledge and ways of thinking developed by acquiring cultural capital, both abstract and formal.

As adults, cultural capital helps individuals to network with other adults who have a similar body of knowledge and experiences and who in turn, control access to high-paying professions and prestigious leadership roles. Without this knowledge of how to speak to a variety of groups, use a variety of language registers and decode words, children are being failed by the education system with life chances after formal schooling limited.   

 

Impacts of SLCN
Impacts of SLCN

Strategies to promote cultural capital and develop language 

  • Recognize the diversity of children's home experiences, and avoid assumptions about different cultural backgrounds, customs and experiences. Get to know the child and their family. 
  • An awareness of and understanding that children will have varied ways of expressing their emotions and showing how they feel through different behavior.
  • Incorporate a variety of materials and artefacts in your classroom that represent the different cultures and languages in your community, such as dual-language books, signs and labels using home-languages or scripts, play materials or soft furnishings.
  • Share the setting's and practitioners' own cultures, including the setting's history (if relevant) and some of the skills and abilities of staff.
  • The local area will provide real and meaningful opportunities to deepen learning and increase understanding of the cultural richness of the area in which children and families live. Many areas will have cultural heritage officers who are only too willing to support families, children and providers to take part in activities, events or visits.

SLCN support strategies
SLCN support strategies

Addressing Speech, Language and Communication Needs in EYFS

Based on the research and resources available, here are nine practical strategies for addressing Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) in Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) settings:

  1. Create a Language-Rich Environment: Encourage language acquisition by providing a stimulating environment filled with interesting objects, pictures, and books that promote discussion. Use clear, simple, and typical speech to model correct language use.
  2. Use Visual Aids: Visual aids can help children understand and follow instructions. This can include visual timetables, symbols, or gestures. Visual aids can be particularly beneficial for children with language difficulties.
  3. Provide Thinking Time: After asking a question, allow children time to process the information and formulate a response. This 'thinking time' can be particularly beneficial for children with SLCN.
  4. Promote Social Skills: Encourage children to interact with their peers and adults. Role-play and group activities can be particularly effective in promoting these skills.
  5. Use Speech Sounds: Incorporate activities that help children recognize and use speech sounds. This can include rhymes, songs, and games.
  6. Address Behavioural Issues: Poor behaviour can sometimes be a sign of communication difficulties. By addressing SLCN, you may also see an improvement in behaviour.
  7. Work with Parents and Carers: Parents and carers can play a crucial role in supporting their child's speech and language development. Provide them with strategies that they can use at home.
  8. Use a Multisensory Approach: Incorporate activities that involve the use of multiple senses. This can help children to understand and remember new information.
  9. Seek Professional Support: If a child continues to struggle with speech and language, it may be necessary to seek support from a speech and language therapist or other professional.

For example, a teacher might use visual aids to help a child understand a new concept. They might show the child a picture of a dog while saying the word 'dog', helping the child to associate the image with the word.

According to Dr. Sally McLeod, "Communication is both a human right and an essential function of being human." This underscores the importance of addressing SLCN in EYFS settings.

A study found that an estimated 7% -10% of the world's population experience communication disability. This highlights the prevalence of SLCN and the need for effective strategies to address these needs in educational settings.

For further reading, consider these academic sources: "Communication disability in a global context" and "Provocative statements: A global call for change in the speech-language therapy profession".

Other problems to consider with SLCN

As a consequence of comprehension difficulties, some children may not understand the instructions given in the classroom,  may copy other people or displays difficult behavior to hide their difficulties. Behavior such as this is often explained as being a characteristic of autism, bad parenting or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) As a result, the child becomes disengaged and learning is affected. 

Expressive language difficulties may mean that a child can't share their ideas or opinions and that their message doesn't come across clearly, and that they can become frustrated and isolated. If it is time-consuming for a child to articulate their ideas,  others including, peers and adults, may talk to them less, include them less in questioning and recap and exclude them from classroom activity.  

Communication difficulties may mean that the young person interrupts and doesn't make eye contact in a way that encourages good turn-taking, meaning that others get offended and the young person has difficulty forming and maintaining positive social relationships.

Speech difficulties may mean that it is time-consuming for the child to get their message across, that people talk to them less to avoid misunderstanding, and the child can't contribute and is excluded.

Speech difficulties may arise due to the typical process of teaching children to read, which is heavily focused on phonics and phonological pronunciation. The use of a nonverbal reading approach may be useful in this situation as it uses the child's internal voice with the teacher or support worker sounding out the words and letters whilst the child follows the words. Comprehension becomes a shared experience and can be checked through the use of word identification when the adult reads the words.  

The term SLCN is often overlooked or linked to developmental delay. Strategies that are used to support SLCN are often generic. Research on SLCN is ongoing, as are support mechanisms for individuals with the condition.