Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN)

Speech, Language and Communication Need (SLCN)

SLCN is a collective term to describe all children and young people with needs in this area and it is often described as an ‘umbrella’ term. Children with SLCN may have difficulty with any or many aspects of communication. These can include difficulties with fluency, forming sounds and words, formulating sentences, understanding what others say and using language socially.

Speech, language and communication plays a vital role in our lives. Speech, language and communication skills are needed for socialising, for learning, for well-being and good mental health and to increase opportunities for employment and participation.

Speech refers to:

  • Speaking with a clear voice, in a way that makes speech interesting and meaningful

  • Speaking without hesitating too much or without repeating words or sounds

  • Being able to make sounds like ‘k’ and ‘t’ clearly so people can understand what you say

Language refers to talking and understanding:

  • Joining words together into sentences, stories and conversations

  • Knowing and choosing the right words to explain what you mean

  • Making sense of what people say

Communication refers to how we interact with others:

  • Using language or gestures in different ways, for example to have a conversation or give someone directions

  • Being able to consider other people’s point of view

  • Using and understanding body language and facial expressions, such as:

  • knowing when someone is bored

  • being able to listen to and look at people when having a conversation

  • knowing how to take turns and to listen as well as talk

  • knowing how close to stand next to someone


Over one million children in the UK have some kind of speech language ad communication need.

We know that SLCN can cause significant difficulties for children and young people and that these difficulties can be long term. Based on information on prevalence studies and from schools census date, ICAN estimate that around 10% of all children have long term, persistent SLCN. This 10% can be divided into three groups:

Evidence shows 7% of children and young people have SLCN as their main or primary difficulty – known as ‘developmental language disorder’ – previously referred to as SLI ‘specific language impairment’.

Other children have SLCN as a result of another condition, such as autism, ADHD or hearing impairment.

Approximately 1% of these children have the most severe and complex SLCN.

This means that 2 – 3 students in every classroom are struggling to communicate.

Children whose first language isn’t English are at no greater risk of speech, language and communication needs than any other child. However there can be challenges with identifying the speech, language and communication needs of children who are learning English as an additional language.


SLCN Documents

SLCN Strategy – June 2013


Provision Resources Chart 


SLCN Useful websites