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Speech, language and communication development are at the heart of all children’s learning and link to other areas of a child’s development. Without speech, language and communication skills, a child will not be able to reach their full potential.
According to the charity ICAN, “1 in 10 children in the UK, 2 or 3 in every classroom – have communication difficulties that require specialist help.” (http://www.ican.org.uk/) With such a high number of children with communication difficulties, it is important to have knowledgeable practitioners to effectively support children’s speech, language and communication skills.
At the end of this unit, you will be able to:
- Explain how speech and language difficulties can impact on a child’s overall development.
- Describe ways in which communication can be modified or adapted.
- Explain how to meet the communication needs of children who speak English as an additional language.
- Analyse the role that other professionals play in supporting the speech, language and communication needs of children.
There are increasing numbers of children entering an educational environment with speech and language difficulties. This unit will enable you to understand some of the main causes of speech and language difficulties and the effects it can have on other areas of children’s development. This unit will help you to understand how to effectively support children’s speech, language and communication skills and adapt your communication accordingly.
Effects of speech and language difficulties
Speech and language difficulties in children can be caused by many different factors:
Childhood Illnesses – Chronic ear infections can have an effect on a child’s speech and language development. If ear infections are persistent, fluid will be present in the ear for long periods of time. This can result in hearing difficulties, which can affect how a child processes language, which can in turn result in delayed speech and language.
Use of dummies and bottles – Prolonged use of dummies and bottles in babies and young children can have effects on a child’s speech, language and communication. Before babies learn to say words and sentences, they explore their voices by producing noises and different sounds. Prolonged use of dummies and bottles can result in a child using their voice less often to make noises and sounds. The teat from the bottle or dummy can also prevent normal movement of the tongue and lips at the front of the mouth; leading to distorted speech.
Difficulty in using oral muscles – Oral motor disorders can affect children. A child that has an oral motor disorder will find it difficult to use the muscles in their lips, jaw and tongue. Difficulty in using these muscles will affect how a child can use their mouth and create difficulties with speaking, eating and drinking.
Developmental Difficulties – Children with Autistic Spectrum Difficulties experience difficulties in communicating. They find it difficult to understand or use verbal or non-verbal communication skills.
Pregnancy or birth difficulties – Dysarthria is a condition affecting the muscles used for speech, creating speech and language difficulties. It is often caused by changes to the brain during pregnancy and at birth.
Lack of stimulation – Children learn by watching others. They observe and copy language, behaviour and actions of others around them. If a child does not receive language stimulation in their early years, they will not acquire effective language and communication skills. The Literacy Trust runs an initiative titled, ‘talk to your baby’ to support early language stimulation. They explain that, “lack of early language stimulation can lead to language delay, and sometimes literacy and learning difficulties that then extend well beyond early literacy development and can be extremely costly or difficult to remedy.” (http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/talk_to_your_baby/about)
The Impact of Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties
Speech, language and communication skills are fundamental to promoting other areas of learning. During a recent review of the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum by Dame Clare Tickell (The Tickell Review), it became apparent that communication and language skills provide a strong foundation for further learning to take place.
As a result of this review, Communication and Language development has now become a prime area of learning for children within the Early Years Foundation Stage.
If a child is having difficulties with communication and language, their overall development may be affected. The impact of a child’s communication and language difficulties will vary depending on the child’s individual needs and severity of their difficulties. The following areas could be affected:
- Personal, Social and Emotional Development
Personal, Social and Emotional Development
Personal, social and emotional development looks at how children develop self-confidence and self-esteem and also at how children make choices and decisions. A child with a communication and language difficulty may find it difficult to express their needs and preferences, meaning that they may refrain from making their own choices and decisions. The development of acceptable social skills is reliant upon play and interaction with others. Children may not feel confident in entering social situations where they find it difficult to interact or participate to a full extent; this can negatively affect their social and emotional difficulties.
The development of friendships relies on positive interaction between two people. Children build friendships by communicating and interacting with one another. Positive communication relies on eye contact, body language and gestures to be used alongside language in order to understand what another person is saying. As children become older, language is essential for establishing and maintaining relationships. A child with difficulties communicating may be left out of friendships.
Communication and language difficulties and behaviour are closely linked. Children, who have difficulty listening and processing language, therefore may not understand the rules and boundaries of the classroom or setting. This may result in tantrums or frustration demonstrated by the child, as they are unable to understand why they are not allowed to do something.
Communication difficulties can result in a child having fewer opportunities for social interaction with other children and less experience in co-operating and sharing with others. In this instance, children may not understand the social expectations of play, which can result in the child snatching toys, rather than learning how to share.
If a child has difficulty verbally communicating, they may become frustrated as they are unable to explain their interests and needs.
Play is valuable for young children. The Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum values play as an effective method of learning for young children, “play is essential for children’s development, building their confidence as they learn to explore, to think about problems, and relate to others.”
Children who have difficulty with communication may find it difficult to engage with and relate to other children during play. As children become older, they enjoy using language to communicate with each other and to play team games with rules. Difficulty engaging with others or understanding the rules of games can leave a child isolated and left out of activities with other children. This will also affect a child’s confidence and self-esteem.
Insert photo here: http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-4096771-left-out.php?st=fcaf64f
This image shows how a child can be left out from group games and activities.
Speech and language skills are important for children’s literacy development. Difficulty in understanding and processing language can lead to delays in the development of phonic skills and reading.
The ability to understand written communication is an essential tool for learning, as it supports learning across other areas of the curriculum.
Mathematical development includes aspects such as problem solving and reasoning, which often require understanding of language and instructions. Many other areas of Mathematics also rely upon the use of mathematical language, such as using number and shape names and numerical language. This close link between literacy and mathematics can cause mathematical delays for children with communication difficulties.
Adapting communication methods
Children with speech, language and communication difficulties will all have varying degrees of severity and will therefore need different levels of support. There are many different strategies that can be adopted in order to support individual children.
Slow down your communication
In order to process language, children require time to listen, think about and work out what has been said to them. Slowing down the speed in which you communicate with children will give them time to listen to and process the language. By pausing after asking questions, children will get the chance to think about an answer to the question. Do not rush children. This may result in the child feeling like they have failed and will lower their self-esteem and confidence. Children will be more likely to attempt to communicate and answer questions if they feel comfortable and get the opportunity to participate.
Use Visual Aids
Using visual aids can support children in understanding communication. Within everyday communication, gestures and hand actions can support a conversation and can engage a child.
Within a setting, visual aids can be used to help the child to understand the daily routine and to make choices and decisions. A visual timetable is a popular strategy used to give children structure for the day and reduce anxiety. A visual timetable is a sequence of symbols or pictures that is displayed in order to demonstrate the activities planned for the session. Children can become involved in the visual timetable by removing the symbols when that activity is complete.
Symbols or pictures can also be used to support children in decision making. For example, a practitioner could have symbols for different types of fruit and encourage a child to choose a picture to represent what they would like for their snack. This strategy can be applied to other areas of the child’s day, such as choosing activities.
Check Children’s Knowledge and Understanding
When giving children instructions or explaining an activity, it is important to clarify their knowledge and understanding of the task. By encouraging children to repeat the instructions or by asking them to explain what they are expected to do, you will be able to ensure that they have understood what you have asked them to do.
Simplify your Language
Shortening your sentences and simplifying your language can help children to process language and understand what has been said to them. Think about the words you use with children and ensure that they are not too complex for their age and stage of development. For example, you could replace the word ‘construct’ with the word ‘build’.
Think about some of the vocabulary you use with children.
For each word or phrase, identify a simplified version you could use with children with communication difficulties.
Praise Children’s Efforts
Giving children praise is an important method to promote the use of communication. Praising a child for participating in an activity or for what they have done well will help to build a child’s self-esteem and confidence and may further encourage their participation.
Share the conversation
Model the correct language and communication
Being a good role model is important for all children’s acquisition of language and communication; however it is especially important for children with communication difficulties.
If a child is saying a word or sentence wrong, do not place emphasis on the error, but repeat the word or sentence back to them in its’ correct form. For example, if a child says “me do paint”, you could join in with the child and say, “I’m doing some painting too.”
Use Alternative and Augmentative Communication Methods
For some children that have little or no verbal communication skills, using an alternative or augmentative communication method is essential to enable them to communicate their needs and preferences.
Children with Autistic Spectrum Difficulties will often have little or no speech. They will usually be able to understand communication, but will need alternative communication methods to enable them to communicate their wishes.
Supporting children who speak English as an additional language
There are more and more children entering childcare settings who speak English as an additional language. Most of these children will have developed speech, language and communication skills in their home language and will need support from practitioners to develop their skills in English.
It is important for practitioners to recognise children’s home languages as important because:
The child will feel valued and respected.
The home language is important for family relationships and connections. Some members of a child’s family, may not speak any English, therefore a child will still need to speak their home language for vital communications in the home.
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