Some children find it hard to talk and/or understand what people say to them. SLCN is the term most commonly used to describe these difficulties. It stands for Speech, Language and Communication Needs. You might also occasionally hear the term SLCD, meaning Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties.

Key Characteristics

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.

Support Strategies

You may need to:

  • 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.

Support Agencies and Links

Afasic Voice for Life –

I CAN – the children’s communication charity