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Language is the vehicle for most learning, so when a child has speech, language and communication difficulties it can affect the development of the child’s cognitive, social and emotional wellbeing. The level of development problems will vary depending on the severity of the problems and the support that the child receives. All children can benefit from some support in speech, language and communications because of how important it is for learning. We need all three elements of speech, language and communication to get our message across, without any of these, what a child says and understands may become confused. Here are some areas that may be affected.
Personal, social and emotional development.
Some may find it difficult to follow the rules of communication and interact socially with others. Because they may find it hard to express themselves and get their views and needs across to others they can often find themselves avoiding social interaction situations. This can then make them feel they lack confidence and have a low self-esteem. Decision making will become difficult and they may start to rely on others to make decisions for them.
Friendships are very important for children. Children with speech, language and communications difficulties can find making and maintaining friendships a real challenge. The ability to understand and negotiate disagreements, socialise with peers and be part of a friendship group is an important development in life. This can become even more difficult as the child progresses through primary school as the need increases for them to become more aware of the feelings, thoughts and motives of others.
Children with these difficulties can often become frustrated, this can result in them demonstrating behaviour difficulties. These can range from occasional bouts of unpredictable behaviour to more specific patterns of misbehaviour. Sometimes because of this poor behaviour, which is often seen as the bigger issue, the language difficulties can be missed.
Play is a vital part of a child’s development, by playing they can learn from their peers. When a child struggles with speech, language and communication, this can have an effect on their ability to play with others. They may not have the confidence to mix with others and participate in games as they can struggle to understand the rules or to make themselves be understood when explaining what they want to play.
Spoken language is important for the development of reading and writing. Children with speech and language problems will often go on to also have reading and writing difficulties. Children who are unable to understand complex oral language and word meanings can have reading difficulties because their ability to understand and produce written language is limited. This can have a knock on effect with accessing the rest of the curriculum, for example, for the development of maths there needs to be an understanding of language and instructions to help with mathematical problem solving and using number and shape names.
Adapting Communications Methods.
There are lots of things all practitioners can do to help a child with language and communication difficulties. The level of adaptions required will depend on the severity of the child’s difficulties. You will need to discover how the child communicates and just how well they can communicate to be able to make the best adaptions. It would certainly be advisable for all practitioners to take part in a speech and language therapy total communication workshop. This will explain the ability to communicate by whatever means available. This may include a combination of any of the following. Natural gesture, e.g. painting, body movements, speech, vocal noises, signs, symbols, pictures and photos. Children are more likely to learn and take in more when they are not rushed and given time to listen. Slow your speech down so that they have more time to process what is being said to them or asked of them. Make sure the child is given time to answer a question. By rushing them into answering can make them feel they have failed and therefore less likely to want to attempt to communicate.
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Objects of reference can be used as a way of communication. These are objects that are chosen to represent activities, places, times etc. and are used meaningfully and systematically. Objects are used because they are multi-sensory and permanent. They also help when used in a systematic way. It can develop symbolic understanding, for example, something that can represent something else. Develop the understanding of what’s going to happen next. Develops the concept of start and finish. It also helps retention of information by the use of prompts. It will develop the ability to communicate when using objects of reference. It is important to speak to the child, but the level of language should be based on the level of understanding by the child. Use keywords, known vocabulary and have a consistent routine.
PECS(Picture Exchange Communication System) can help those that have communication difficulties to initiate communication, although this is a very structural approach and best implemented by someone who is trained in it.
When giving children with language and communication difficulties instructions or explaining to them about an activity, it is important that you make sure the child has fully understood what has been said to them. Asking the child to repeat what you have asked them or get them to explain the activity to you will help you decide if they have a good understanding of what is asked of them. You can help by shortening your sentences and use more simple words that are age and development related. Signing with a child can be helpful in many ways, it gains their attention and can improve eye contact, expressive speech can develop. Signing is known to stimulate the some area of the brain as speech, make sure you sign slowly and only sign keywords. It is important to speak naturally with the signs. Do not overload the child with too many signs and only teach the signs that are useful to the child that you are working with. Just by learning a few key signs such as drink and toilet can enhance some children’s lives enormously.
English as an addition Language.
Because there are more and more children entering the childcare settings who speak English as an additional language, practitioners may have to give extra support to these children to help them develop their skills in English. Practitioners should value this linguistic diversity and provide opportunities for these children to use and develop their home language in their play and learning. Home language skills are transferable to new languages and can strengthen the child’s understanding of language use. As some of the child’s family may not speak any English, it is important to understand that the child will still need to speak their home language for communications in the home. Home languages are vital for maintaining positive family connections. Practitioners have a key role in reassuring parents that by maintaining and developing their home language will benefit their children with their developing skills in English. English will need to be learnt in a context, through practical meaningful experiences and interactions with others. These children may spend a long time listening before they speak and go through a silent phase. This is not usually a cause for concern as they are still learning. They will often be able to understand much of what they hear, especially where communication through gesture, facial expression and visual support is encouraged. Understanding is always in advance in spoken language and it is important that children do not feel pressured into speaking until they feel confident to do so, but it is essential that adults continue to talk to the children with the expectation that they will respond.
Learning opportunities should be planned to help children develop their English. Build on the child’s experiences of language at home, so that their developing use of English and other languages support one another. Provide a variety of writing in the children’s home languages as well as English including books, labels and notices. Make sure the child has a range of opportunities to engage in speaking and listening activities in English with peers and adults. Practitioners will also have to keep close supervision over children that have English as an additional language and continually reinforce instructions, as these children may find it difficult to understand rules and boundaries and therefore can place themselves at risk of danger and hurting themselves.
Supporting Speech, Language and Communication needs of children.
The earlier any problems with a child’s speech are picked up the better as the relevant support can be put into place. It is therefore vital for all those working with children to appreciate the importance of speech, language and communication. Make sure they are aware of how they can support the development of speech, language and communications in all children. Are able to identify children with difficulties and know where to get them additional support. Know how to work with specialists such as speech therapists. It’s not always easy to tell if a child has a speech, language and communication need, it can depend on several things, and for example what age the child is and what type of difficulties they may have. Usually a parent or a family member will be the first person to realise the child has a difficulty, sometimes it can be staff at a nursery or school who notice there is a problem. Testing can begin right from birth as many babies now have a new-born hearing test. Problems with hearing can lead to speech difficulties. If a parent has concerns about their child’s speech, language and communication development, they can seek advice from their health visitor, G.P. school nurse or teacher. Any of these should be able to support the parent in making a referral to a speech and language therapist if necessary. Speech and language therapists have specialist skills and knowledge about the development of speech and language. They are trained to assess the child’s speech and language development, notice whether there are any difficulties, make a diagnosis and develop an individual treatment plan to the child’s needs and work alongside the parent to implement the plan.
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