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Typical Development of Speech, Language and Communication and Speech, language and Communication Needs (SLCN).

Updated on November 7, 2014

Although on the surface the terms speech, language and communication may all appear to refer to the same thing they all in fact have separate and specific meanings:

Speech refers to the ability humans have to make the sounds that make up our various languages. If a person is able to make the required skills accurately it makes them much easier to understand. Speech skills include being able to speak fluently, speaking without hesitation and using the correct letter sounds and length of sounds as needed.

Language is a term used to mean the ability to connect sounds together in order to create recognisable words and then to use those to form sentences and larger segments of speech. The term language is also used to mean an ability to understand what other people say to us.

Communication refers to the use of appropriate language as a whole in a way that allows two or more people to communicate effectively. The term communication can also be used to mean the expression of concepts and thoughts. As well as the spoken aspects of communication there are some non-verbal areas such as listening to the other person, turn taking, making eye contact and body language to be considered.

Children and adults may have a range of difficulties related to speech, language or communication. These can be present in one or more of these areas and may be part of a larger medical condition such as autism in some cases. Sometimes problems relating to speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are referred to using other terms such as speech delay or communication disorder. In these cases the term delay is used when a child is developing normally but at a slower rate than comparative typical children. Speech or language disorders may be present when a child’s development is progressing in an abnormal or unusual way. Because of difficulties in being certain as to whether a child’s development is abnormal or delayed some professionals have adopted the phrase ‘speech and language impairment’ rather than using a possibly inaccurate specific term.

Speech, language and communication needs are also known as SLCN and these can present in many different ways and different children may vary in how any condition impacts and affects them. Because of this there is a commonly used base of typical signs or symptoms of SLCN that can be used. These signs range from a child having speech that is very difficult to understand to them not talking or showing difficulties in understanding what is said to them or in understanding verbal directions.

During the first two years of life some symptoms that a speech, language or communication disorder may be present include the child not using appropriate eye contact or babbling as much as is typically expected. At this age children may not respond to the speech of others even though they have no hearing impairment. As the child gets older they may struggle with two way communication and show little language development. It may be the case that a child does not properly understand what is said to them, they may have poor listening skills or appear to not hear sounds around them. Difficulties in understanding and using speech and language to communicate effectively can lead to toddlers and small children to become extremely frustrated or withdrawn. They may seem very shy, avoid making eye contact with others and may start to speak even less.

By the time they reach the ages of 3-5 years old a child who has SLCN may have fallen behind their peers, not only in terms of their speech skills but also in play and interaction skills. Children with speech, language and communication issues often find it harder to understand the unspoken rules of play such as turn taking as well as struggling with developing general social skills. In school the child may appear to have learning difficulties, difficulties with reading, making friends and with their emotional well-being and behaviour.

Signs of speech, language and communication disorders can be present from an early age.
Signs of speech, language and communication disorders can be present from an early age. | Source

As with many other medical conditions, some children are more at risk of developing speech, language and communication issues. Research has shown that if a child has a close relative that has a SLCN they have a strong change of experiencing problems as well. Around 30% of children with SLCN have a parent, sibling or other close relative who also have difficulties with in speech language or communication. Other factors that seem to contribute to the risk of a child developing SLCN are low birth weight or premature birth (before 37 weeks gestation) and having other delayed skills such as late walking or poor coordination. Boys are also 2-3 times more likely to struggle with speech, language and communication problems than girls.

Typical Speech and Language Development between Birth and Five Years of Age.

Speech and language difficulties are not set, concrete conditions that every child will experience in the same way. The can vary greatly not only in severity but in the way they affect each child. Some children will have difficulties with both speech and language whereas others may struggle with only one of these. Even if a child has issues relating got both their speech and language, the difficulties they show may not be balanced and one area can be stronger affected than the other. If a child has mild need it may also be the case that they are able to compensate for these by using other skills that they possess.

From birth to three months

From birth a baby will normally startle at loud noises and unless distressed will quieten and even smile at the sound of familiar voices. They should be able to recognise their mother and father’s voices.

When happy and calm babies should smile at its parents and make small sounds such as cooing. These are the beginnings of language and communication. Typically developing babies will also cry different depending on the need they are communicating.

From four to six months

At this age babies begin to move their eyes in the direction of noises and sounds around them. They will start to notice that toys make noises. They may pay attention to music and even show a preference for some styles of music.

Babies will be able to laugh and chuckle and be able to show when they are happy or unhappy about something. If you listen carefully you may hear the sounds for letter m, b, p among a babies babbling. At this age typically developing babies will gurgle and babble to themselves when alone as well as to others when they are present.

Children who have SLCN can struggle at school so it is important that their teachers are supportive and use suitable strategies and techniques.
Children who have SLCN can struggle at school so it is important that their teachers are supportive and use suitable strategies and techniques. | Source

Seven months to one year

At this ages babies are able to and will enjoy playing games such as peek-a-boo and will begin to recognise common words such as ‘book’ or ‘cup’. Listening skills will be better developed and they will be able to respond to simple requests such as ‘come here’. They will turn to the direction of sounds and may move towards them if they wish.

By now babbling has become more developed and will contain short and long sounds. These sounds can be used as well as crying to get someone’s attention when needed and children in this age bracket will also begin to use gestures such as waving or holding out their arms. They will attempt to imitate sounds and will most likely be able to say several simple words such as ‘cat’, ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ by the time they reach a year old.

One to two years

Toddlers between one and two years old will be able to follow easy commands such as pointing to parts of their body and understand some simple questions such as ‘where is your cup?’. They can listen to and enjoy stories, rhymes and songs aimed at their age group and point to pictures when the item is named.

Mot children with be constantly adding to their vocabulary and will start using two word phrases.

Two to Three Years

Understanding of instruction words such as ‘stop’ and ‘go’ will improve greatly during this time and children will be able to grasp differences in the meanings of words. They will follow two part instructions and are more likely to enjoy and be able to sit and listen to longer stories.

At this age a child will have a much larger vocabulary and will be capable of using many two or three word phrases both to talk about things and to request items, attention and help. The child’s speech should be easily understandable to people who are familiar to them. At this stage children often start to ask why questions and can ask for many objects by name rather than by pointing or using babble or noises.

Four to Five Years

At this age a child will be able to accurately use words such as ‘first’, ‘last’ and ‘next’. They will be starting to understand the concept of time and be able to understand that events can occur today, tomorrow, next week etc. A child will be able to understand longer sets of instructions and will be able to understand most of what they hear.

Although they may still make mistakes making some of the more difficult sounds required for speech, their speech should be clear and their vocabulary growing well. They will be able to tell short stories and know how to keep a two way conversation going. Children of this age will be able to change how they speak depending on who they are talking to: for example using more formal speech when talking to teachers rather than with their friends or using shorter sentences and simple words when speaking to younger children.

© 2014 Claire


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    • Carol McCullough profile image

      Success In Life 2 years ago from U.S.

      Claire, Thank you for writing about learning and speech disabilities. I have twin boys 3yrs old with Autism and we are currently in speech and occupational therapy.

    • Elderberry Arts profile image

      Claire 2 years ago from Surrey, Uk

      You are very welcome. I have a 7 year old son who has autism and struggles with communication and language. I hope that the therapies will be positive and helpful for your sons. Sounds like they have a great mum looking out for and supporting them.

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