Dealing With the Challenges of UK Children With Special Needs

reading to kids

Teachers and speech and language therapists (SLTs) share concern about children’s speech, language, and communication needs (SLCNs) but they have different foci because of their professional roles. Contemporary research has identified the challenges to schools when meeting the needs of children with SLCN, highlighted terminological controversies, and has increased opportunities for professional development.

The views of 170 Educationalists and SLT professionals in England about SLCN, and the children’s associated needs were compared for similarities and differences in an online survey that employed both categorical responses and Likert scales. Comparisons were made between teacher and SLT groups and between SLTs working in schools and clinics.

There were few significant differences between the views of SLTs in clinics and education. In contrast, there were often large and significant differences between teachers and SLTs. Education professionals were less familiar with terminology related to speech difficulties, did not discriminate between behaviors that might differentiate speech from language difficulties and varied in the ratings given about other associated difficulties.

Additionally, education professionals showed awareness of academic and behavior difficulties associated with language difficulties and highlighted associated problems with reading and writing. SLTs felt confident in their understanding of the relevant terminology but there was less clarity in the features that discriminated speech from language difficulties. Both the Educationalists and SLTs valued additional training needs with over 50% of the Education staff reporting that they had no training in SLCN.

The lack of clarity about the language markers of SLCN by teachers and the requests for tools to help in the identification of speech and language problems in school-age children are important areas to address. Both SLTs and Education staff emphasized the co-occurrence of difficulties with reading comprehension and written text production, highlighting the importance of profiling children’s language learning needs rather than a reliance on diagnostic categories.

Maxine Fothergill of Amax Estates points out that many young children experience speech and language delays, and enter school with poor language skills. Addressing children’s speech, language, and communication needs (SLCN) requires the engagement of both education and health professionals and is a topic of national concern within the UK and internationally. These two groups of professionals provide important, but different, perspectives about the children’s needs.

Yet, there is persistent evidence that these professionals have different understandings of who the children with SLCN are, priorities for intervention and appropriate models of service delivery to meet their needs. Despite a desire to collaborate to service these needs, the lack of systematic criteria for specifying the children’s SLCN, and the variety of terms used to describe these problems raises particular challenges.

Because many SLCN children lack, or are behind, in reading skills, there should be a big emphasis on reading. Reading to children is especially important for children who can’t themselves read. SLCN children often have low confidence and low self-esteem because of they are behind their peers, so reading material should include topics centered on these issues (as well as other social-minded topics such as diversity and inclusion). Teachers and parents can obtain such material at websites such as 1 You World.

These challenges raise barriers to inter-professional collaboration and the development of appropriately targeted interventions. A vital first step toward addressing these issues is to establish current understandings of both the speech and language and other associated difficulties experienced by the children. Achieving this objective entails examining both groups of professionals’ perceptions.

To our knowledge, no direct comparison has been made of the views of a large sample of practising Educational and SLT professionals working in mainstream settings concerning speech and language. Previous work has focused on one group of professionals, small samples in local areas, or in specialist settings. Additionally, none of these studies differentiated speech from language difficulties.

In England, the 2001 Special Educational Needs’ (SENs) Code of Practice included a category “Communication and Interaction” which was further subdivided into SLCN and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). SLCN specifically refers to children whose primary need is reflected in their oral language and excludes sensory impairment, cognition, ASD, or a specific learning difficulty. There is evidence, on the other hand, that SLTs use SLCN when referring to a broader group of children.