Speech, language and communication development

Interacting with and providing stimulating environments for young children helps to put in place the building blocks for their growth and development. Communication is crucial to speech and language development, as is early reading to children and encouraging their engagement with books and reading.

Before formal education can begin, children must learn to:

  • play
  • talk
  • listen
  • understand, and
  • attend

Speech, language and communication development (SL&CD) and health inequalities from 5-8 years

Inequalities experienced by parents and children can affect speech, language and communication development and lead to further health inequalities later in life.

Though the first twelve months of life are the most crucial for communication development, appropriate supports for children and parents can improve outcomes at later stages.

Quick links:

What are health inequalities?

The WHO defines health inequalities as "differences in health status or in the distribution of health determinants between different population groups."

For a general discussion of health inequalities and the early years, please see Inequalities in the early years.

Policy context

Activity in this area is consistent with commitments and priorities detailed in the Early Years Framework and the National Parenting Strategy, Equally Well, Achieving our Potential, a range of NHS Scotland's Quality Indicators and is relevant to Scotland's national practice model for child-centred services - Getting it Right for Every Child (all external links).

Under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act, public sector service providers must discharge their Disability Equality Duty to promote equality of opportunity for people with disabilities, including those with communication support needs or communication disabilities.

What do we mean by SL&CD in 5-8 year olds?

By the age of 8 years, children should be using well formed sentences with a good range of vocabulary and speech should be easy to understand.

They should be able to follow instructions while carrying out another activity at the same time and use language in different ways, for example to discuss ideas and give opinions.

For a fuller discussion please see Speech and language development - what to expect 5-8 years.

How do inequalities relate to speech, language and communication development in 5-8s?

According to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists’ Communicating Quality 3 (external link) the accepted prevalence in 2006 was that 10 per cent of the school aged population had a speech, language or communication difficulty which could potentially affect their educational attainment.

The prevalence was higher in areas of social deprivation and where there are vulnerable populations (high rates of drug or alcohol abuse or looked after children).

Identifying those at risk

At any age, the following should be a cause for concern and for referral to Speech and Language Therapy services:

  • Parental concern about child’s speech and language.
  • Child is heard to stammer or if parent reports hearing this.
  • Child has difficulty chewing and swallowing.
  • Child has a hoarse voice or abnormal voice quality.
  • Child whose play or social interaction seems inappropriate.
  • Child has difficulty following instructions.
  • Child has difficulty making himself or herself understood.
  • Child displays high levels of anxiety or frustration.

For a fuller list of indicators for concern, please consult Speech and language development - what to expect 5-8 years.

For a comprehensive list of age-specific indicators, please see NHS Lothian guidelines for referral to SLT (MSWord Download - 116Kb).

Communication support needs (CSN) of parents

Communication Support Needs include learning disability, sensory impairments and English not being spoken as the first language.

Inequalities arising from the CSNs of parents present particular difficulties, as parents with CSN may be less able to access additional supports and information that could assist with their child's development.

For a detailed discussion on issues around assisting parents with communication support needs, please see Communication Support Needs (CSN) and inequalities in pregnancy.

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Articles in this topic


  • External Resource

    Curriculum for Excellence

    Improving education for children and young people by putting their learning experiences at the heart of education.

    • When was this published? 8/17/2010

Professional support materials

Information for the public

  • External Resource

    National Autistic Society Scotland

    This is the largest UK charity dedicated to sufferers of autism and aspergers syndrome, and their families.

    • When was this published? 8/17/2010
  • External Resource

    National deaf children’s society scotland

    This charity campaigns for education, health and family support services for deaf children.

    • When was this published? 8/17/2010
  • External Resource

    Play, Talk, Read website

    Information, tips and resources for introducing Play, Talk and Read to babies and young children.

    • When was this published? 5/6/2013
  • External Resource

    Scottish Autism

    The Society has been supporting families in Scotland affected by autism for over 40 years.

    • When was this published? 8/17/2010