The impact of the difficulties
Difficulties in one or more of these areas can have a profound impact on a child’s experience of their early education. How each child is affected will depend on the degree of their difficulty and personal factors.
Owing to these problems, children with speech and language difficulties may struggle to follow and learn daily routines – e.g. if they find it hard to understand spoken language children may struggle to follow instructions, especially negatives such as the difference between “do” something and “don’t” do something.
They may also find sentences with more than one element difficult – e.g. “Get some paper and pencils and go and sit in the drawing corner.” The child may be able to follow the individual elements of the sentence but when they are combined into one, they can’t process everything at once. Keeping sentences short and supporting information with gesture will help.
Children who find it hard to make themselves understood by adults or other children will find their ability to join in activities and tell people things, ask questions, relate stories, and form friendships is inhibited. They may be unable to join in with songs or nursery rhymes and have difficulty following stories and remembering information. In this situation, offering a choice with words to go with that choice may help, e.g. “Do you want to play with the cars or paint?”
Attention and listening
Difficulties in attention and listening can make it hard for children to get the most out of free-play sessions, their ability to take turns may be affected, and they may find it hard to listen to and retain instructions. Poor awareness of time and the sequence of routine events can lead to children becoming insecure, especially if the routine they have learned is changed. Sticking to a set routine and having pictures that relate to that routine in order upon on the wall may help.
The feelings of frustration and confusion that can arise from speech and language difficulties can result in behaviour problems. Children may either vent their frustration and anger in very obvious ways or become very quiet and withdrawn when they feel the act of communication is too difficult to keep on trying.
Support in education
In addition to these more general difficulties, children with speech and language problems can encounter specific difficulties in accessing the early years curriculum. Many, if not all of the Early Learning Goals rely directly or indirectly on a child being a competent listener and communicator. Children with difficulties in any of the areas discussed here will need support to get the most out of their early years experience.