Communication has many different aspects. These include attention and listening, understanding, expressive language, forming sounds and words, fluency in speaking, making sentences, following topics in a conversation and the use of language in a social context.
A speech, language and communication need (SLCN) is an umbrella term which refers to difficulties in one or more aspects of communication.
These may include difficulties understanding language, difficulties using language and difficulties producing speech sounds accurately, stammering, difficulties with one’s voice and difficulties interacting with others appropriately
Children may have some or all of these difficulties and the degree of difficulty vary from child to child.
SLCN is often referred to as a ‘hidden difficulty’ because many individuals with SLCN just look like other children or with no accompanying physical features.
SLCN can sometimes be linked to certain conditions such as autistic spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and learning disability. It is reported that SLCN are some of the most common childhood disabilities.
Unfortunately, the number of children in Ghana with SLCN is unknown. In Ghana, children with SLCN are likely to be labelled as ‘not being serious’, having bad behaviours, not clever, among others.
These children may be punished by their parents and teachers who blame them for their poor performance.
It must be noted that there are adults with SLCN often resulting from acquired disorders such as Parkinson’s disorder, multiple sclerosis, stroke and traumatic brain injury.
Impact of SLCN
Difficulties with speech, language and communication can have a great impact on a person’s quality of life.
These include, employability, mental health, educational achievement, vulnerability/criminality among others.
Speech and language therapists (SLTs) are professionals trained to assess and treat persons of all ages with SLCN to help them communicate to the best of their ability.
It is important that medical professionals treating patients refer persons who report with any of the difficulties mentioned above to SLTs for assessment and management.
Teachers should look out for pupils/students with the following behaviours and refer them to a speech and language therapist as soon as possible: inability to carry out instructions or complete work unaided; difficulty understanding new concepts; distracted or disruptive; can’t remember information; avoids verbal tasks; has difficulty retrieving words / forgets words; appear(s) quiet or uncooperative in groups; puts words in the wrong order in sentences or misses out words; not stay(ing) on topic; difficulty taking turns; mispronounces words and sentences, and substitutes certain sounds e.g., cCat is produced “tat”.
SLCN are crucial to our functioning! Early identification and management of SLCN is, therefore, crucial for a good quality of life. Seek help now!
The writer is a Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana.