Kate Blog

Identifying SLCN early – Kate Freeman, I CAN’s Lead Advisor on the Early Development Programme

As a speech and language therapist of over 20 years and author of I CAN’s Early Talkers series, the importance of early identification of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) is never far from my mind.

Speech, language and communication skills are so important in our lives – they help us let people know what we want, understand what we need to do, tell people if we are feeling sad and build relationships with each other.

Imagine not being able to do any one of these everyday tasks… and then imagine not being able to do them every day.

We don’t learn to talk overnight, it usually takes nearly 400 days until we come out with our first words. But those 400 days are spent gathering information that will help us to put words then sentences together.

Unfortunately, because words don’t appear until around a child’s first birthday, it can sometimes be difficult for people to tell whether progress is being made as it should be. It can take a few months for anyone to notice that there are any difficulties – this is precious time!

When words do come for typically developing children, they usually come quite quickly: Within a few months children are starting to build sentences, ask questions and begin early conversations.  This means that if a child starts off late, the gap between them and their peers quickly becomes much wider.

This can mean the difference between getting on well in pre-school and school, or really struggling.  This is important because research has shown that a child’s vocabulary at the age of 5 predicts their success at the age of 30[1].

If a child does have SLCN or delayed communication and language skills, early support is important. If a child’s SLCN are resolved by the age of 5 1/2, they are likely to achieve the same educational success as a child who has never had SLCN[2].

So, one of the key tasks for parents and people in contact with young children is to find out what to expect from their child and when. This way we can all keep an eye on children’s development and check whether progress is being made as it should be.

I CAN has a range of materials and systems to help people know what to look for:

Speech and language therapy services offer an open referral system which means that anyone (with parental consent) can ask directly for an appointment if they are worried about a particular child.  You don’t have to go through your GP, school or health visitor.

Everyone needs to know what to expect and how to identify young children’s progress in communication and language.  If we can do that, we can help children get the support that they need in good time.


[1] Feinstein, L., and Duckworth, K. (2006) Development in the early years: its importance for school performance and adult outcomes. London: Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning, Institute of Education, University of London.

[2] Snowling M.J and Adams, J.W, Bishop D.V.M and Stothard, S.E (2001) Educational Attainments of School Leavers with a Pre-school history of speech-language impairments IJLCD Vol 36