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We get to talk to a lot of parents at Eds Up about hopes and fears for their growing children. One worry that continually pops up involves children’s speech, language and communication development.

Questions abound – When should a child start speaking? When should they start speaking clearly? What if they don’t speak at all or choose not to speak? What about lisps or speech impediments? What if they muddle up letters or words in sentences? What if they keep talking with a “baby” voice? And, most importantly – How should we, as parents, respond and when should we seek help?

in a struggle to read, poor behaviour, diffi culty in learning or socialising. This is why it is often called a “hidden diffi culty”. Karen Montgomery, a Speech and Language Therapist, explains that many parents don’t feel that their children need to see a therapist as there do not appear to be any problems with pronunciation. However, pronunciation is a very small part of the overall picture. Some parents don’t realise that there is a problem because it is something that is only showing up when the child is at school in a group with other children, making friends or learning social skills. At the same time, some children may have issues in one area and others in several and sometimes children develop these skills in the usual way but do so at a slower rate.


There are lots of “shoulds” in the queries above and no child is the same. Children do develop at different rates. But speech and language diffi culties have become even more of a talking point after the issues were recently addressed in the depiction of King George VI and his struggles to overcome a stammer in the fi lm, The King’s Speech.

Speech, language and communication are key to everything we do in our daily lives – interacting with others, building relationships, learning and reading, and understanding and expressing our needs, emotions or feelings. Many of us take these skills for granted but over a million children in the UK need assistance with speech, language or communication.

Most children do learn to communicate and develop skills from birth. They begin to understand words before learning how to say them and then move on to form them in to sentences. They will rely on these skills to learn at school and play with friends.

The key skills that are developed are:

• Social communication – using language appropriately in context – pragmatic language

• Understanding of language – words and sentences – receptive language

• Expressing and producing language – talking using words and sentences – expressive language

• Saying correct speech sounds • Attention and listening

Some children fi nd it hard to understand what is said to them, form words and construct sentences, fi nd or remember the right words and their meaning or to express thoughts and feelings, use the right sounds in speech, and understand rules for social interaction and conversation.

Very often, these needs are misinterpreted or missed as the issues may manifest themselves


The website Talking Point from the charity ICAN gives a very helpful indication for when to consider seeking help (see the chart on page 14).

Getting Help

If you are at all concerned, it is best to seek help earlier rather than later. Speech and Language Therapists are qualifi ed professionals who will work with children who have speech, language and communication diffi culties. Therapists will usually work for the NHS or Local Authority, or in clinics, children’s centres, nurseries, mainstream schools, specialist schools and hospitals and can be contacted by referral through your GP.

Therapists will gather information about the child’s milestones, their medical and family history. After assessment, the therapist may refer the child to a different agency such as an Educational Psychologist or a Paediatrician as the underlying issue may not be speech and language related.

If the Speech and Language Therapist feels that it is within their remit, they will work together with the parents and the child to draw up a plan of specifi c targets using different materials and resources in order to address the problem. The cases need a team approach and therapists will work closely with the school and parents. Once they start working with the child they will break down tasks into small steps, taking the problem back to the initial breakdown, fi nd where that breakdown is and work through it. Parents’ involvement is key especially for pre-school age children but with older children, the sessions will often take place at school.

Sometimes, parents fi nd a lack of support for their children with Special Needs and turn to the private sector for specialist help. Jackie Murray, Principal of Fairley House School, the leading day school for specifi c learning diffi culties, believes that this trans-disciplinary approach is absolutely vital.

Photo by Christopher Simkiss, Photographer

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