SLCN (Speech, Language & Communication Needs)
The ability to speak and understand language requires a number of different skills. Children with SLCN might have a difficulty with just one skill, or with several. For example, some children might:
- Find it hard to make the mouth and tongue movements necessary to form clear sounds: ‘b’, ‘k’ etc.
- Have weak attention and listening skills. Young children learning to talk need to concentrate much harder than adults in order to understand what other people are saying – rather like we do when learning a foreign language
- Not understand what language is for, so often use or respond to it inappropriately –sometimes ignoring you when you speak to them, at other times saying something completely unrelated
- Find it hard to recognise the difference between certain sounds or words and so struggle to make sense of what they hear – confusing ‘look’ and ‘like’ for example
- Have a poor memory for what they hear, making it hard to learn new words or follow instructions
Some speech and language therapists and other professionals use a range of specific terms to describe these different types of difficulty.
- Seat pupils with SLCN away from distractions and near to you so that they can see your face clearly when you speak.
- Use visual back-up as much as possible (facial expression and gesture, visual timetables, symbols, visual timers); show examples of completed work; use video clips to demonstrate processes.
- Consider introducing a signing system, such as Makaton.
- Establish class routines and explain carefully when there are changes.
- Praise and reward good speaking and listening; focus on these skills at particular times, with clear explanations of ‘what I’m looking/listening for’ (WILF).
- Use good examples of speaking to reinforce good communication: ‘Jacob, you spoke really clearly and we could all hear what you said. Well done.’
- Establish turn-taking rules, perhaps using a toy or bean bag to pass around the class (only the person holding the object can speak). Allow time for pupils to answer. For example, ‘I’m going to ask a question that I want you all to think about carefully. We’ll take a minute (more or less as appropriate) to think abut this, then I’ll choose someone to answer.’ On choosing someone, say their name first: ‘Eva, can you tell us …?’ This alerts the pupil in good time so that they can be ready to respond.
- Establish a system for asking for help, such as a special card for the child to display if they don’t understand.
- Encourage pupils to ask each other for help and explanation when they don’t understand something – and praise this when you see it happening.
- Most importantly, allow the child with SLCN enough time to sequence and compose their thoughts in an unhurried and unpressured way, with lots of praise for the effort made.