Internet a Vital Resource for Early SLCN Identification
I CAN, the children's communication charity, are advising parents to seek resources to better understand children's special educational needs (SEN) following the Department for Education Support and Aspiration: a new approach to special educational needs and disability - progress and next steps report.
The report, released this month, found that children across the UK are being over-diagnosed as having SEN. I CAN expressed concerns that special educational needs such as SLCN, which often goes undetected, may be overlooked in future, despite early identification being crucial to getting children the right support. SLCN is the most common Special Educational Need amongst primary school children – more prevalent than autism and dyslexia. However, ICAN say there is a lack of awareness of SLCN, and maintain that, despite the widespread use of the internet, many parents of children with SLCN still struggle to find information about how to get the best support for their child.
A 2011 survey to launch Hello, the national year of communication, found that 70% of survey respondents felt that more information on how children develop speech, language and communication would be helpful and 39% said they would look for this information on the internet. As reported by Jean Gross CBE in January 2012 – the Government appointed former Communication Champion – one of the most important factors for children with SLCN is early detection, so children can be supported in different ways to benefit them later in their education as well as their social and personal development.
In response, I CAN's Meath School in Surrey, one of Britain's few primary schools dedicated to children with severe and complex SLCN and Asperger Syndrome, has launched a new comprehensive website to showcase the school's holistic approach to primary years SLCN education – and help signpost parents to resources if they are concerned about their children's speech and language development (www.meathschool.org.uk).
Meath School believe that the internet can play a crucial role in helping parents to understand their children's potential difficulties, and more importantly to know where to go for information and who to turn to for support.
Janet Dunn OBE, headteacher at Meath School said:
"It is vital that children with SLCN or any other special needs are not simply left falling by the wayside. Despite the report's focus on over identification, too often, children with SLCN are 'invisible' or their needs may labelled wrongly as for example, behavioural or severe learning difficulties and are offered the wrong type of support.
"SLCN must be be identified and supported as early as possible to help children's educational, social and personal development. However, many parents still don't have all the facts about speech and language difficulties.
"To reach as many families as possible online, we have developed a new website to raise awareness of the services we offer. We want parents to be made aware of resources available for their children if they have been identified with severe and complex SLCN or if they are concerned about their child's communication development."
According to Mumsnet, British parents are increasingly using the internet as their first point of reference when searching for information about their children's difficulties. Popular online forums, such as Mumsnet and Netmums serve as virtual communities for parents to seek advice and share stories.
Justine Roberts, CEO and Co-founder of Mumsnet, said:
"For many parents Mumsnet is the first port of call when looking for information and advice about their children's needs from other parents in similar situations. Hearing about the experiences of other parents can be a great practical and emotional support, alongside the right professional help."
Despite this, Jean Gross asserts there is a need for continued awareness-raising efforts, and better dissemination of information to parents through increased use of technology.
Reama Shearman, a Meath School parent, experienced problems finding the right support for her son. She said, "I found it very difficult to find information on SLCN and appropriate services for my son. It took hours of research to uncover useful information on the internet. Meath's new website is vital for parents – it will make such a big difference to families as they will be able to find information on Meath School and can get their children the early support they need."
Janet Dunn concluded:
"Meath School is not only an outstanding special school for children whose primary need is speech, language and communication, but also a centre for SLCN research. Too often, information about SLCN is hard to find and chanced upon. It is vital that we have information online about our comprehensive approach to SLCN education and our many success stories."
Across the UK, 1.2 million children struggle to communicate with long-term, persistent SLCN. This figure represents 10 per cent of all children and means that 2-3 children in every classroom in Britain are struggling to communicate. Long-term, persistent SLCN means the condition is not simply developmental, and affected children will not just 'grow out of it'.
Parents who are concerned about children's general speech, language and communication development can see more information on the I CAN's Talking Point website (www.talkingpoint.org.uk) or call the I CAN Enquiry Service on 0207 843 2510.
Notes to editors:
- I CAN (www.ican.org.uk) is the UK's children's communication charity. I CAN's mission is to ensure that no child who struggles to communicate is left out or left behind. Our vision is a world where all children and young people who struggle to communicate receive the help they need so that they can have a happy childhood, make progress at school and thrive as adults.
- I CAN's Meath School (www.meathschool.org.uk) is one of a very few schools in the UK which caters for only young learners with SLCN. The school and care settings have been recognised as 'outstanding' by Ofsted since 2008. Meath pupils achieve the very best progress in their speaking, listening and understand due to the school's high quality integrated approach to education and hands-on learning atmosphere.
- Two Years On: Final Report of the Communication Champion for Children, December 2011
- Hello Launch survey, January 2011, www.hello.org.uk