Speech, Language and Communication Needs

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.

Children with SLCN may:

  • Have difficulty in understanding information conveyed through spoken language
  • Have difficulty communicating their needs, wants, thoughts and ideas to other people
  • Not understand the basic concepts of communication and that they can impart information or impact on the behaviours of others
  • Find it hard to understand and/or use words in context
  • Use words incorrectly with inappropriate grammatical patterns
  • Have a reduced vocabulary
  • Find it hard to recall words and express ideas 
  • Have speech and oral language skills significantly behind their peers
  • Have poor or unintelligible speech.  

'SLCN is not consistently defined. It encompasses a wide range of needs, there is a high degree of co-morbidity and there are variations in the terms used to describe subgroups of SLCN. In addition, a child's SLCN will usually change over time as they develop, meaning that numbers vary by age, type and severity of SLCN.' (Jordan and Thomas, 2010).

The different aspects of SLCN relate to each other, overlap and interact. They do not fall into net categories and neither do children with SLCN. 

SLCN is often called a ‘hidden difficulty’ and children’s speech, language or communication needs are often misinterpreted, misdiagnosed or missed altogether. This is because most children with SLCN look just like other children, and can be just as clever.

What other people might see is a child who:

  • Is having difficulty learning to read,
  • Is showing frustration and/or behaviour problems or
  • Having difficulties with friendships
  • Appears to be withdrawn or isolated.

Any of these indicators can suggest SLCN.

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