Language, and the ability to communicate with others, is one of life’s most important skills. The ability to understand language is also essential to the cognitive and emotional development of children, so it’s crucial that when working with children you can identify and support those complex needs. Continue reading to find out more about identifying and supporting speech and language communication needs (SLCN).

What are speech, language and communication needs?

SLCN is a term used to describe children who don’t have fully developed speech, language and communication.

Speech refers to spoken words. A child without speech difficulties will be able to speak without hesitating, and use a clear voice.

A child with language difficulties will struggle to join words together into sentences and conversations, making it hard to converse with other people. This may result in children becoming frustrated as they cannot explain what they want and potentially not get their needs met.

Finally, communication refers to how children interact with others. This involves how they use language and gestures within their speech, and can make it difficult to hold a conversation. Struggling with communication also provides difficulties when trying to understand somebody else’s point of view and how they use facial expressions.

Identifying speech, language and communication needs in children

Any adult who works with children, whether that’s in a care environment or an educational setting, should always be on the lookout for signs of SLCN and other conditions. Here are a list of some signs that a child could be having difficulties with their speech, language and communication needs.

  • Struggling to understand spoken language
  • Struggling to follow stories
  • Poor attention and listening skills
  • Difficulties with social interaction
  • Frustration

Struggling to understand spoken language

Some children can have problems with understanding spoken language, including the meaning of words. This can include struggling to follow basic instructions during a game or a lesson and the child can find it hard to understand what is being asked of them. This is a sign of a child that may have difficulty with their speech, language and communication needs.

Struggling to follow stories

Another sign of SLCN in children is difficulty following a story. Some children may struggle to recount details of a story, either from a book or detailing incidents that are happening during their day.

By the age of five, children should be able to describe things in longer sentences. If you’re a person of responsibility, like a teacher, and notice a child struggling to recount events, it could be a sign of SLCN.

Difficult behaviour

Behavioural issues have been linked to children with communication issues. Children of all ages with language difficulties can often display behaviours of concern.

Poor attention and listening skills

Another sign of SLCN in children is a poor attention span and difficulty listening to others. Their hearing could be absolutely fine but they have trouble following a conversation and listening to instructions.

Difficulties with social interaction

Social skills can also be affected by SLCN in children. This includes their ability to form relationships with other children, have conversations and join in with play activities.

How to support a child with speech, language and communication needs

If you’ve noticed a child in your classroom struggling with their speech and language, there are a handful of steps you can take to make their day-to-day easier, helping them understand speech and language and improve their communication skills.

  • Make your lesson more visual – Use signs and images alongside speech and wording to make things easier to understand. The child can associate the images with the words being spoken, which can ease their understanding.
  • Break information into smaller chunks – Too much information at once can be very hard to understand for a child with SLCN. Try to break things into smaller chunks and at a slower pace.
  • Pre-tutor the child – Give the child one-to-one opportunities to learn, giving them a greater chance of improving their understanding.
  • Give instructions in a logical sequence – Any instructions given during a game or a task should be given in sequential order. A step-by-step guide on how to perform a certain task can help the child with their understanding.
  • Give the child plenty of time to think and reply – The final step you can add to your daily routine is to give the child more time to comprehend instructions and stories. This extra time allows the child to feel a part of a classroom conversation.

Support at Seashell

Seashell is a charity dedicated to providing a creative, happy and secure environment for children and young people with complex needs and additional speech, language and communication needs from across the UK.

We are committed to delivering individually tailored support services that promote independence and build confidence. We deliver this through the programmes of education we offer through our school and college and residential care we provide for children in our care homes. The work we do beyond our own facilities supports this approach and the specially tailored support services we offer to the children and young people we work with.

If you’d like to know more about Seashell and what we do, contact us today on 0161 610 0100 or email us at