One million children in the UK have speech, language and communication needs, for these children, early intervention is vital, says Fiona Barry
This month is the ‘International Month of Action’ for the International Communication Project. The project is comprised of a group of national organisations who work with people with communication disabilities, including the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in the UK.
It aims to raise the profile of communication disabilities with international health bodies and policy makers and to increase public awareness of the significant impact that communication disabilities can have on people’s lives.
We know that around one million children in the UK have speech, language and communication needs, that’s two or three in every classroom, and for these children early intervention is vital.
This includes children who have speech that is difficult for others to understand, children who find it difficult to use words and put sentences together or children who have trouble understanding sentences people say to them.
Some may have issues with social skills, for example, knowing how to have successful conversations. Others have problems with the fluency of their talking or the quality and tone of their voice.
Some children may require different ways to communicate either in addition to, or as a replacement of their own speech, and therapists support children in finding the right method for them.
Communication is a basic human right and when something goes wrong with it, the effects can be wide reaching.
A parliamentary review into speech and language therapy services in the UK, The Bercow Report, stated that communication is ‘the essential life skill for all children in the 21st century’.
In fact, a study by James Law found that children with a restricted vocabulary size at the age of five were more likely to have poorer literacy skills later on, have more mental health problems and have lower employment rates as adults.
However, we know that if a child’s language difficulties are resolved by the age of five and a half years they have as much chance at doing well in school as those children who did not have issues with their talking. This is why early intervention is crucial.
The problem is that communication disability can often be invisible. We frequently see children’s difficulties with language going undetected.
When a child is unable to get their message across or understand the spoken language around them, this can result in a very quiet and withdrawn child who could be easily overlooked at home and in class.
On the other hand we also see children with behavioural difficulties who are acting in a disruptive way due to the overwhelming frustration and exhaustion of dealing with the everyday currency of words and sentences.
A number of studies by Nancy Cohen have shown that four in every ten children referred to child psychiatry clinics had language impairments that had previously gone undiagnosed.
This was partly because these children did not sound like they had language impairments, their speech sounded normal to others but their difficulties were more subtle, including their ability to understand and remember spoken language.
The other reason was that, up until that point, the disruptive behaviour was what caught the attention of adults, rather than the more subtle problems of communication.
Interestingly, it’s thought that at least 60 per cent of young people in the Youth Justice System have communication needs, many of which may also be undiagnosed.
The recognition of communication disabilities has become more of a ‘talking point’ in recent years.
In fact Channel Four now has five announcers as part of their ‘Alternative Voices‘ theme who have communication impairments.
This includes two announcers who have Tourettes Syndrome, a deaf actor who uses British Sign Language, an announcer with cerebral palsy who uses a communication aid due to lack of speech and an announcer with a stammer. What better way to give voice to those who we rarely hear on television?
This month will see a range of awareness raising activities taking place including the signing of a ‘Declaration of Human Rights’ and speech and language therapists being asked to make video blogs of the work they do.
There are also lots of ways that schools can help to raise awareness of communication difficulties within their own communities which in turn would support pupils with these issues:
- Schools can take ‘The Communication Commitment‘ , a framework which helps schools to develop a whole-school approach to communication.Schools are asked to choose five actions to promote and support good communication skills throughout the school and are given a range of resources to support this.
- Schools can sign up to the Communication Trust’s ‘No Pens Day‘ on 15th October 2014. Several of these events have already run successfully in which teachers and pupils are encouraged to put down their pens and run a whole day of speaking and listening activities.
- Teachers and parents can sign the ICP2014 ‘Declaration of Communication Rights‘, which states that communication is a fundamental human right and people with communication disabilities must be given access to the support they need in order to achieve their full potential in life.
- Staff and parents can watch the latest video called ‘Unsuspected Language Impairments‘ from the RALLI campaign (Raising Awareness of Language and Literacy Impairments) which discusses how communication difficulties can go undetected in children.
In this age of social media where anyone can give voice to their opinions, it’s important we don’t forget those who do not have a voice. Why not use this month to speak up for those who cannot?