Useful information

Common Features of Speech Language and Communication Needs

Children and young people with speech, language and communication needs may experience some or all of the following difficulties. 

 

  • Difficulties with speech sounds

    Difficulties with speech sounds can include: 

    • Muscles used to create different sounds. This can be due to muscle weakness and may be linked to conditions such as cerebral palsy.
    • Sending messages from the brain to make different speech sounds. This may sometimes be described as 'dyspraxia'.
    • Learning and using different sounds to make words. This can be called ‘phonological difficulties’.
    Phonological difficulties

    Some children have difficulty in learning and using sounds in the right places for words.

    Usually, most children will be using a full range of speech sounds by the time they are 5 years old. Some children however, will have difficulty in developing these skills. Primary-aged children may be experiencing difficulties if they:

    • Only use a small number of sounds.
    • Are swapping one sound for another e.g saying 'tat' instead of 'cat'.
    • Are missing the ends off words.
    • Have difficulty with vowel sounds e.g. saying 'poor' instead of 'pear' or 'pot' instead of 'pat'.
    • Have difficulty with long or complicated words like 'banana' or 'aeroplane'.

    Good sound skills are needed when learning to talk. They are also important for developing reading and spelling.

  • Difficulties in understanding others

    Understanding what is said to us involves a range of different skills. A young person may have difficulty in one or more of these areas. This will affect how well they understand what other people are saying.

    Listening and attention

    Paying attention and listening to other people can be difficult for some children. They may be easily distracted.

    Autitory skills

    We need to tell the difference between different sounds. This is known as ‘auditory processing’. We also need an effective memory for sounds and words. This is known as ‘auditory memory’.

    Some children may find it difficult to remember enough words or sounds to make sense of what they are hearing.

    Understanding words and concepts (semantics)

    We need to understand the words a speaker is using. Some children find it difficult to learn and remember new words.

    We also need to understand the meaning of a word or the ideas behind it. Some children find it difficult to understand abstract concepts. For example, words to do with size or time.

    Understanding sentences 

    We need to understand the way sentences are constructed. This is often called ‘grammar’ or ‘syntax’.

    We also need to understand how different word endings can change the meaning of a sentence. For example, 'I pour' becomes 'I poured' if it has already happened.

    Some children find it hard to understand sentences with lots of information or with complex structures.

    Memory
    When learning new words, children rely on their memory. This is because they need to compare new words to words they have already learnt. If a child has difficulty doing this, they will struggle to understand what is being said.
  • Difficulties with producing language

    Planning, organising and saying what we want to say involves many different skills. A child may have difficulty in one or more of the following areas. This will affect how well they express themselves.

    Difficulties with vocabulary (semantics)

    We need to put the right words in the right order to express ourselves clearly. We also need to have enough words and the 'right' ones to say what we want.

    Some children find it hard to learn or recall words. Some have difficulty choosing the right word to use. This is sometimes called 'word-finding' or 'word-retrieval difficulties'.

    Difficulties with forming sentences (grammar or syntax)

    We need to know how to put words together so they make sense. Some children find it difficult to put words together in the right order. Some can miss words out of a sentence e.g. saying 'playing ball' instead of 'Doggy is playing with the ball’.

    We need to know how the endings of words change when talking about the past or talking about more than one thing. Some children can have difficulty adding the right endings to words to show a different meaning e.g. saying 'I runned' instead of 'I ran'.

    Difficulties with organising sentences and ideas

    We need to link our sentences together in a logical order to make sense to other people.

    Some children find it difficult to organise their ideas. Their speech may not follow a logical order. They may talk about lots of different topics in the same group of sentences. Some may find it difficult to plan what they want to say. They may need more time to organise their thoughts and language.

  • Difficulties with using language appropriately

    There are lots of complicated rules about how we use language.

    These rules can be quite subtle. Sometimes the rules can change depending on the situation or who we are talking with.

    This area of language is called 'pragmatics'.

    Non-verbal skills

    Non-verbal skills are an important part of communication. These include:

    • Making appropriate eye contact.
    • Not standing too close or too far from someone.
    • Doing things like nodding to show we are listening.
    • Using appropriate body language and facial expressions.

    These skills become more sophisticated as children grow older and have more experiences.

    Some children have difficulty in understanding or using non-verbal skills. This can affect their communication development and impact on them socially.

    Conversational Skills

    When talking with others, there are many things we need to consider. For example, we need to:

    • Be able to start and finish a conversation well.
    • Take turns and not interrupt.
    • Be aware of what our listener already knows or how they might be feeling.
    • Change the conversation well.
    • Be relevant.
    • Be aware of the situation and who we are talking to.

    Some children may have difficulty understanding and using these 'rules'.

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