Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN)

Speech, Language and Communication Need (SLCN)

Definition of need and how to identify it

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.

SLCN is a collective term to describe all children and young people who have difficulties in communicating with others. They may not be able to express themselves effectively or they may have difficulties in understanding what is said to them.  Children with SLCN may have difficulty with one or more aspects of communication. 

Speech refers to:

  • Saying sounds accurately and in the right places in words.
  • The sounds people use to communicate words.
  • Speaking fluently, without hesitating, or prolonging or repeating words and sounds.
  • Speaking with expression with a clear voice, using pitch, volume and intonation to support meaning.

Language refers to speaking and understanding language:

  • Joining words together into sentences, sentences to build up conversations and longer stretches of spoken language.
  • 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

There are a variety of signs and clues that might suggest a child or young person has a speech, language and communication need. The list below, includes but is not limited to, the following;

Child or young person struggles to speak clearly or with clarity.

  • CYP struggles to listen and hear during a conversation
  • CYP might find turn taking challenging
  • CYP is finding learning challenging – this could be in all aspects of the curriculum, not just reading and writing.
  • They are using the wrong words in speech
  • They are making grammatical mistakes
  • Relying on stock, standard phrases.
  • Struggles to hold a conversation
  • Language or vocabulary is advanced or delayed from expected milestones.
  • Problems following the invisible rules for conversation and narratives
  • Behaviour is disruptive and they show signs of frustration
  • CYP might show signs of being withdraw socially or anxiety/worry
  • CYP might struggle to understand what is being said.


How prevalent is SLCN in settings and schools?

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. 

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.


How can you support children and young people in your schools and settings?

The following questions to ask yourself might be helpful to ensure best practice is implemented in learning environments. Please note that the list is not comprehensive and there might a range of strategies to help support children and young people with specific and complex needs.


  • Have you adapted your language for the child?
  • Have you helped scaffolded the child’s language?
  • Have you given the child or young person enough time to process and answer the questions you have asked them?
  • Have you asked questions for the child or young person separately and without overloading them?
  • Have you used open questions?
  • Have you thought about if the child can understand complex words and language?
  • Have you ‘pitched the language’ at the appropriate level for them?
  • Have you supported what you are saying with visuals like pictures, signs and gestures?


Physical environment

  • Have you ensured there are open/comfortable spaces inside and outside the building for child or young person to talk?
  • Are noise levels manageable?
  • Are spaces labelled?
  • Have resources and materials got visuals such as pictures or symbols on them?


Social skills

  • Have children and young people been provided an opportunity to communicate with their peers?
  • Is it appropriate for their age-group?
  • Has the child or young people been given the opportunity to be taught and develop coping skills that work best for them to manage frustration or disruptive behaviour?
  • Have they had the opportunity to understand their own emotional wellbeing and know the consequences of not looking after their emotional needs*?


*All human beings have emotional needs. Children and young people who have speech, language and communication needs might find expressing and regulating emotions challenging although it varies for every individual.


SLCN Documents 


DFE-RR247 – BCRP10a – Gov.uk


How to raise concerns

We recommend that the professional who has noticed the behaviour and signs of needs start observing and documenting what they notice. This is then shared with SENCo’s or designated members of staff. This could then lead to identification with a specialist professional.

In the case that the child or young person needs targeted support in education, please look at the Referral for Involvement form on CYPSinfo and send to InclusiveEducation@northyorks.gov.uk.


Referral Information

Speech and Language Therapy referrals, see the following websites for your local Health Trust.

York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

www.yorkhospitals.nhs.uk – follow this link to either adult speech and language therapy services or children’s Therapy Services.

Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust

www.hdft.nhs.uk – follow this link to speech and language therapy

Airedale NHS Foundation Trust

www.airedale-trust.nhs.uk – follow this link to speech and language therapy

South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

www.southtees.nhs.uk – follow this link to speech and language therapy


Referrals to the Communication and Interaction Team go through the Single point of Access (SPA)

Small Talk and Building Blocks for Language

Referrals to Small Talk and Building Blocks of Language – Can be made through Health Visitors, Settings, Schools, Children’s Centres, SLT and C&I drop-ins. 

For further information on the language groups contact Jo Collett SLCN Consultant at jo.collett@northyorks.gov.uk


SLCN Useful websites







We would also recommend The Communication Trust’s CPD Online Short Course, which is best suited for all professionals, particularly those working with children and young people in a variety of learning environments. The link is




The course is free and takes about half a day to complete.

Page last updated: June 2021