SLCN Looks like

Children develop their language skills at different rates and there is a wide range of what is considered typical. Children and young people continue to develop new skills throughout their school life and into adolescence.

Some children struggle

Children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) can experience difficulties with:


  • Understanding language
  • Using language to express themselves
  • Forming speech sounds in order to articulate words correctly
  • Understanding the rules of social interaction.

Children can have difficulty with just one of these areas or a combination of more than one.

Scale Of Issue Intro Image


Some children may have poor spoken language skills due to a lack of communication-rich experiences in early childhood. They talk and understand at the level of a younger child, but with the right support they may catch up to their peers. For other children, their SLCN are longer term and they will need ongoing support.

These children won’t just ‘pick language up’; they will need to be taught in a specific way. Information on the prevalence of SLCN is available here.


What does a child with SLCN look like?

A child with SLCN in an early years setting or school may:

  • Take a long time to do something and need to be told several times before they ‘get it’. Sometimes they need to be shown what to do before they understand.
  • Shy away from talking-based activities.
  • Experience literacy difficulties – struggle to understand what they read, or find sequencing the order of events in their written work tricky.
  • Demonstrate difficult behaviour – acting out or being the clown, or getting angry for no clear reason.
  • Appear to lack understanding of the conceptual language used in subjects like maths, science or geography. For example, they find words like estimate, measure, feature, high, low difficult to understand and apply. 
  • Struggle to learn and remember new words. Sometimes when they can’t think of a word, they might try to explain it. For example, in PE instead of saying ‘wall bars’ they may say ‘the things at the side of the room, you climb them’.


  • Understanding language

    A child struggling to understand language may have the following difficulties:

    • Difficulty learning and remembering new words
    • Struggle to follow instructions
    • Literal understanding - can't “read between the lines” or work out hidden meanings
    • Struggle to understand what they have read
    • Difficulty listening without support
    • Difficulty understanding rules of games. 
  • Expressive language

    Expressive language difficulties may mean a child or young person:

    • Can't remember words even though they know them
    • Speaks in sentences that are immature or sound “muddled”
    • Misses grammatical endings such as tense or plurals
    • Finds it difficult to use longer strings of language, for example to tell a story
    • Has difficulty staying on topic
    • Their ideas are “muddled” or disorganised.
  • Speech sound difficulties

    Children with speech sound difficulties may:

    • Be difficult to understand – their speech is not clear
    • Substitute sounds/use the wrong sounds in words
    • Struggle with phonological awareness (pre-literacy skills)
    • Miss out sounds in words completely 
    • Find long, multisyllabic words difficult to say
    • Have a limited repertoire of sounds.
  • Want to find out more?

    • SLCN can present in many different ways. This video from the Communication Trust shows just a few children and the different ways they are affected by their speech, language and communication difficulties.
    • Young people with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) explain what this means for them and also what helps them in this short video.
    • Spotting children with language difficulties in the classroom isn’t always easy. This video has detailed information on what DLD looks like in a school setting.
    • Children with word-finding difficulties explain how this feels for them here.
    • The impact of language difficulties on friendships is explained by one child in this video.



Create your own user feedback survey


There are no items in your basket - why not visit our shop?