Chapter 7 - Areas of Need: Communication and Interaction

7.1 Definition

Children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have difficulty in communicating with others. This may be because they have difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them or they do not understand or use social rules of communication. The profile for every child with SLCN is different and their needs may change over time. They may have difficulty with one, some or all of the different aspects of speech, language or social communication at different times of their lives.

7.2 Different forms of communication and interaction difficulties

Children and young people may have difficulty with:

  • Receptive Language
  • Difficulty in understanding and processing language
  • Expressive Language
  • Difficulty with the use of spoken language or nonverbal communication
  • Pragmatic/social communication
  • Difficulty with social interaction, social cognition, and pragmatics.
  • Speech sound difficulty
  • Difficulty with phonological skills or articulation skills. The difficulty may not be restricted to one area and may be demonstrated at different levels.  

7.3 Assessment: Gathering Evidence

Where there are signs that a child/young person may need some support for communication difficulties the class teacher should consider:

  • The classroom environment and its potential to interfere with communication  
  • The child or young person’s individual needs, their presentation and impact on their learning
  • An early discussion with the SENCo to provide some suggestions of observations to make or strategies to try.

The Communication and Interaction Audit has some suggestions for considering 'conditions for learning' and individual needs.

There is further information on SLCN, including self-evaluation, available in the Inclusion Development Programme (IDP) (external link).  Training can be accessed through the IDP or through the TESS training programme.

The following table provides some indications of difficulties that children and young people may experience.

Difficulties children/young people may experience
DifficultyChild/young person shows difficulty in:Child/young person may show or have:
Receptive Language Difficulty


Attention skills

Understanding spoken language

Lack of interest in lessons

Negative/disruptive behaviour

Expressive Language Difficulty

Conveying information in speech


Sign language or gestures

Not use correct grammar

May produce very short phrases and sentences

May have a small vocabulary

May have limited eye contact

Limited natural gestures

Limited facial expressions

Pragmatic/Social Communication Difficulty

Use of social language and social rules of conversation

Making and maintaining friendships

Understanding of others feelings/emotions


Using non-verbal communication such as eye contact or facial expressions

Sensory integration

Staying on topic in conversations

Lack of interaction in lessons

Lack of interest in peers

Speech Sound Difficulty

Co-ordination of the tongue, lips and palate


A family history of difficulties

Delayed language development

Additional diagnosed difficulties e.g. Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia, Down Syndrome etc. 

 The Communication Trust provides further information:

7.4 Plan and Do: Strategies and Interventions

“Have you tried? - for Communication and Interaction” suggests a number of strategies to improve communication and understanding within the mainstream classroom. Together with the Communication and Interaction Audit this provides some suggestions for initial support prior to an expert diagnosis of a specific need. These are both found in the 'related documents' on the HEFA page.

The table below give some more specific suggestions:

Suggestions to improve communication
Difficulty Some support Lots of support
Receptive Language Difficulty

Check communication - friendly classroom

Discuss strategies and play memory and listening games


Talking Tables

Expressive Language Difficulty

Check communication - friendly classroom

Provide scaffolding and models of language structures

Visual cues help the child/young person to formulate their responses

Vocabulary lists can help with word finding/recall difficulties

Give opportunities to discuss what they have seen with an adult or more verbally able peer.


Talking Tables

Pragmatic/Social Communication Difficulty

Check communication - friendly classroom

Provide scaffolding

Try to give the child/young person a routine which they can follow – visual time lines and “Now /Next” board can help to give structure to a school day

Discuss any changes to the routine prior to it happening – back this up with visuals such as a social story

Talking Partners

Use social stories to model appropriate social behaviours

Use role play to practice, social skills, imaginary play and turn taking


Talking Tables

Speech Sound Difficulty

Check communication - friendly classroom

Provide scaffolding

Give the child/young person lots of opportunities to hear good roles of the speech sounds they are struggling with

Talking Partners



Talking Tables

For children/young people with higher levels of need the document  Activities to Support Communication and Interaction may prove useful.

7.5 Review: Monitoring and Tracking

It is important to establish a baseline assessment of speech, language and communication skills. Tests such as British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS) or Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT) could be used to establish a standardised assessment result and support services such as TESS, SALT or EPS could provide advice and/or support for this.

This could lead to a programme of intervention that should be recorded through a provision map, speech and language plan or IEP/Support Plan which enables school to measure the impact of the interventions.

7.6 EHC Criteria

The referral for an Education Health and Care Assessment needs to show evidence of advice sought, acted on and evaluation that demonstrates the need for further intervention and provision.

Children with communication and interaction difficulties will often be identified through the Early Years Pathway. The Code of Practice stresses the importance of early identification, assessment and intervention. Early language difficulties often lead to difficulties with literacy skills, social communication and emotional development.

The needs of children with severe communication and interaction difficulties can only be identified by a detailed assessment of their speech, language and overall communication, cognitive processing and emotional functioning. Communication and interaction difficulties are often a feature of other learning needs and may be considered in other sections of HEFA.

When describing the child's functioning reference should be made to:

  • Birth to Three Matters Framework
  • Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage
  • 'P' Levels
  • National Curriculum Key Performance Indicators

For SLCN it is expected that the evidence will include either an EP report and/or SALT report.


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