Speech, language and communication needs

Speech, language, and communication is important for:

  • making our needs known
  • expressing our likes and dislikes
  • building relationships with others
  • learning
  • reading
  • understanding and controlling emotions or feelings.

There are many different types of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). Children might struggle with one, some, or all aspects of speech, language and communication at different points in their lives. Some children with SLCN may also have special educational needs.

In Kent, SLCN is the most common need in early years and primary schools and the second most common need in secondary schools. With the right support at the right time, children and young people with SLCN can thrive.

Views of children and young people with SLCN

We spoke to children and young people in Kent who have SLCN and asked them how they feel:

"I say I don't know because I don't know how to explain"

"I don't understand, you're saying too much to me"

"Don't ask me to read aloud or in front of my friends"

"Others ignore me or walk away when I'm talking"

"I don't know what to say, and can't use the right words"

"People don't listen to me"

"Sometimes I do things to get in trouble to avoid talking or asking for help"

Children and young people in Kent's voice as told to professionals

How can I support my child’s speech, language and communication skills?

Parents and carers have an essential role in helping children to develop speech, language and communication skills. Every interaction with your child, even before they are born, supports their brain development.

If you are pregnant, visit Bump, Birth and Beyond (Kent and Medway). You will find ideas to help ‘grow your baby’s brain’ by building a strong bond with them.

Find support for you and your child on the journey from pregnancy to starting school on Kent Baby.

The ‘Born to move’ app developed by health visitors and parents in Kent gives you ways to play and interact with your child in the early years to support their learning and development. Free to download from the App Store and Google Play store.

BBC Tiny Happy People helps parents develop their child’s language skills. There are lots of simple activities and play ideas.

The NHS Start for Life website has lots of tips to help with learning to talk, including things you can do alongside everyday activities such as bath time and going to the shops.

Find information and workshops about how you can support early language and communication on The Pod from Kent Community Health Foundation Trust.

Groups such as Playground creative play and Baby rhyme time offered in your local library are great ways to support early communication skills.

Access the Speech Link parent portal and visit the development tab to help you work out what the next steps are for your child’s learning, then go to the stage-appropriate activities section.

Find information and workshops about how you can support your school aged child on The Pod from Kent Community Health Foundation Trust.

Where should my child’s speech and language skills be now?

It’s important to remember that children develop their speech, language and communication skills at different rates. However, knowing what is typical can help to identify difficulties early. Here are some recommended resources to support you which also offer advice and strategies to help you child whatever stage they are at:

I am concerned about my child’s speech and language skills, what can I do?

There are many resources to help you develop your child’s speech and language skills. However, if you are worried, there are lots of people who can provide support. Select your child’s age below for some guidance on who to ask.

Speak to your child’s health visitor about any concerns you have. This could be carried out  at one of their regular checks. At age 2 and a half, health visitors use a tool called the Early Language Identification Measure (ELIM) and if needed can also provide intervention and offer other support.

Speak to your child's early years setting about any concerns you have. They will be able support your child’s communication and interaction needs using the the best practice guidance for the early years. They may also have staff trained to deliver specific interventions for speech, language and communication such Early Talk Boost.

Speak to the staff at your local Family Hub. They may have suitable activities and groups to support you and your child. They may also have staff trained to deliver specific interventions such as The Communication Tree and Little Talkers groups.

If your child attends school, talk to their teacher or SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) if you are concerned about their speech, language and communication skills.

Many schools are trained to use resources such as Nuffield Early Language Intervention, SpeechLink and LanguageLink to screen for speech and language difficulties and provide support and intervention.

Your child’s school may also have access to a link speech and language therapist who can provide advice and support. This could include school-wide strategies, targeted provisions or if needed, some focussed individual support.

If your child’s school does not yet have access to a link speech and language therapist and it is felt that more support is required, they may discuss a referral to your local speech and language therapy service.

You can also access support from your local speech and language therapy service via:

  • Talking Walk-ins for residents living in Ashford, Dover and Deal and Folkestone and Hythe
  • KCHFT Advice Line for residents living in North Kent (Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley), East Kent (Thanet and Canterbury) and West Kent (Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks)
  • Children's therapy for residents living in Swale.

Find your nearest speech and language therapy service.

You can also visit our Local Offer Directory for local and national speech, language and communication needs support.

Charities and resources for speech, language and communication needs

  • Speech and Language UK: Information and support for speech and language development
  • Afasic: Information and support for speech and language development
  • More Than Words Charity: Offers free Makaton training to parents and carers and runs local events
  • Makaton.org: For information about the Makaton signs and symbols programme.