I CAN, the charity that helps children communicate has coined the term ‘communication disability’ to encompass the problems faced by all 1.2 million children and young people across the UK with speech, language or communication difficulties or delays.

I CAN highlights four different kinds of ‘communication disability’: 1. understanding and finding the right words 2. producing, ordering and discriminating between speech sounds 3. knowing how words, phrases and sentences are put together to convey meaning

4. using and understanding language in different social situations.

If a teacher is concerned that a child is struggling in one or more of these four areas, I CAN recommends that they should speak to their SENCO and consider referral to their local speech and language therapy service. The child’s family needs to be closely involved, as communication development extends beyond the ‘school gates’ and families too have a vital role to play.

I CAN believes that a specific term is needed to make the issue easier to understand and talk about and defines a ‘communication disability’ as ‘children and young people with a communication disability cannot express themselves, understand others or build relationships. One in ten struggle with this invisible disability. Without the right help, at the right time, they will be left out and left behind.’

Inclusion policies mean that the initial responsibility of identifying and meeting the needs of pupils with a communication disability often falls directly on teachers and teaching assistants. They already have a complex range of demands to deal with. Teacher Development Agency research has highlighted that 90% of teachers did not remember receiving input on speech and language impairment (SLI) and 88% considered their knowledge to be ‘limited’ or ‘very limited’.

Teachers who need help to identify children with communication difficulties, should access www.talkingpoint.org.uk, the one-stop online information resource for parents and professionals interested in children’s communication development.

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – October 2005