Language difficulties have traditionally fallen into several categories - is it a delay? Is it a disorder/ is it part of a general developmental difficulty or not?
Specific Language Impairment (SLI) has been the label given to children who have only a language problem, no developmental delay and strong non-verbal abilities, and this group of children is where many services have focussed their resources
The ‘label’ usually determines the intervention pathway, but sometimes it also discriminates against certain types of help which may be beneficial.
In Nurseries and schools across the country the focus has not been ‘what to call it’ but rather ‘what to do about it’
Soundswell therapists have long been concerned that a definition acts as a constraint and might deny children (and the families and educationalists supporting them) access to the help they need.
Non-therapists reading this article may be surprised (and shocked) by some of the findings of this research.
To gain a diagnosis of SLI in usually requires ‘substantial mis-match between verbal and non-verbal abilities and no other developmental problem’. This would exclude most children in inner city schools .
Most people will have heard of the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate which, somewhat simplistically identifies the crucial importance of the environment in which a young child grows and develops. This new research also found that in some places a socially deprived background was considered to be the explanation for a child’s language problems. This is very often the case - but under a very strict definition of SLI (above) only a very few children would qualify for speech and language therapy [SLT] help - and the huge population of ‘environmentally deprived’ children would not be included.
It seems odd that the vast majority of children with language difficulties - for whatever reason - may not qualify for help despite the fact that many make very good progress as a result of specialist knowledge and skills shared with school staff and whole class strategies taken on board. Yes, speech and language therapy resources are scarce - which is all the more reason that we should use them to empower as many others a possible. We have come a very long way since the early days when speech and language problems were the sole responsibility of a SLT, now it is acknowledged that everyone in the child’s life has a role to play in supporting and remediating speech and language development. In the late 1990s the concept of speech and language being an integral part of overall educational need lead to a significant shift in thinking. It is now accepted that communication skills impact on future attainment. Today, it probably isn’t too much of an under-statement to say that many school staff are ‘desperate’ to know what to do to raise language levels.
Dorothy Bishop’s RALLI Campaign started the ball rolling in terms of raising awareness of SLI and now it has been the catalyst for this next important step of clarifying and re defining what this condition really is which will surely lead to more children getting the right help
Article based on Dorothy Bishop's piece in the February editon of the RCSLT Bulletin: Read it here