I can be creative! The links between language disorder and creativity

03 January 2020

I can be creative! The links between language disorder and creativity

I CAN's Director of Impact, Mary Hartshorne, addresses the myth that language disorders limit creative potential.

Creativity, the use of imagination or original ideas to create something, is an increasingly valued skill. Not only is it usefully socially, such as in play, but employers want to hire young people who can think up new ideas and link things together. 

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson stresses the importance of developing creativity:

 ‘it's the job of education to help children make sense of the world they're going to live in, being creative is essential to us; it's essential for our economy’.

In the neat little animation below, he explains why creativity is so important:

Importantly, creativity is not just for a select few: it’s possible for everyone, including children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

This potential is sometimes overlooked when we see that children with SLCN can have difficulty using language creatively, for example  to understand and tell jokes. They may find it difficult to understand inference and metaphor, to interpret meaning from spoken language. The link between language and thinking is well established, and children with SLCN can find it hard to use language for problem solving, especially the inner language we use to silently talk ourselves through issues. 

However, with the right support, children with SLCN can absolutely be creative!

Having worked with children and young people with SLCN for over three decades, I have seen time and again just how imaginative and creative they can be. Take our students at I CAN’s Dawn House School in Nottinghamshire. One student I worked with went on to study drama at college; he described how it was much easier to be a character and live their emotions than to understand his own.

Another student had really struggled to manage school because he didn’t understand what was going on:

“I didn’t understand the work in the class. Because I didn’t know what to do I would sit there and do nothing or leave the class and skip school.”

Yet, when given the right support, he was able to really understand his strengths as well as what he found difficult and was able to express himself. He went on to take a performing arts course at Hull University, and even came back to help I CAN convince a large national organisation that we should be their charity of the year. He played his part well, went off script (scarily!), and had the management team in the palm of his hand!

It just goes to show that difficulty with language doesn’t have to limit your ability to be creative, imaginative, come up with ideas and problem solve.

Some young people are even able to use creativity to describe their language disorder. Abby Beverley creates images using words and talks about words being like jigsaws with missing pieces. Lily Farrington uses some really powerful images and brings these to life in a short video to explain what language disorder feels like – words bouncing off instead of going into your head, words falling too quickly for her to catch them.

Finally, who says children with SLCN can’t tell a good joke?

‘Two cows were standing in a field.

One cow said to the other, ‘Are you worried about this Mad Cow Disease?’

‘Baa!!’ said the other cow!’

No, not one of mine – one from a winner of the annual Voice Box Joke competition. He also has a language disorder.




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