Thursday, 3 February 2011

Hello in February: Let's talk about long term speech & language difficulties

One in six parents in Britain believe that the most common cause of speech, language and communication
difficulties among children is the time they spend on computers and watching television, according to a new poll published today to mark the launch of the Hello campaign (– the national year of communication.

Over half of parents surveyed blamed speech, language and communication difficulties on parents not talking to their children enough. Nearly one in three parents said they were or had been concerned about their children’s communication skills. The OnePoll survey of 6,000 people, including 3,000 parents, was commissioned by the Hello campaign to explore perceptions about children’s speech and language development.  

The Hello campaign aims to make children and young people’s communication development a priority in homes, nurseries and schools across the country. It is run by The Communication Trust, a coalition of 40 organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication, in partnership with Communication Champion, Jean Gross. The campaign is backed by government and sponsored by BT and Pearson Assessment.

Speech, language and communication needs affect over 1 million children in the UK today: four out of five respondents underestimated the extent of these difficulties. Only one in five of the 6,000 people polled considered biological or genetic reasons to be a possible cause of speech, language and communication
needs. However, the Hello campaign says the exact cause of long term speech, language and communication needs is often unknown but can be attributed to biological as opposed to environmental factors.  

Jean Gross, England’s Communication Champion, said: “Public understanding of children’s communication difficulties remains worryingly low. The automatic response seems to be to blame parents or technology. This just isn’t right. We need to clear up the confusion and myths that exist around this subject. 10% of children – that’s two to three in every UK classroom – have some form of long term communication difficulty that can affect them early, severely and for life. Their brains don’t process language in quite the same way that other children’s brains do.  These results reinforce the need for the Hello campaign to radically improve understanding of speech, language and communication difficulties and the impact this has on children’s lives.”

The adults surveyed (48% of whom were parents of children under 5), exposed widespread lack of knowledge about children’s speech and language development. The poll found, for example, that parents and the general population know more about walking milestones than talking milestones.

8% of parents said they had been or were concerned that their children’s communication difficulties were significant, with a greater proportion of these in Northern Ireland (13%) and England (8.1%) than in Scotland (6.1%) and Wales (6%). One in seven of the general population say they wouldn’t have a clue when asked whether they would recognise a child with a speech, language and communication need. Most adults however could relate to the impact of communication difficulties. When asked how they themselves felt when they struggled to get a message across or got words muddled up, two thirds of adults felt frustrated or silly with only 9% saying it didn’t affect them.

Chris Pike, young person aged 17 with a communication difficulty, says; “The worst part of having a communication difficulty is being misunderstood; quite often the people around me don’t even realise I have these special needs. Parents and teachers clearly want to help me and others like me to develop and reach our full potential. However, the vast majority of people just don’t know the reality of struggling with a communication problem.

“It’s upsetting that many people might blame my problems on spending too much time in front of TV and computer screens. Communication difficulties come in a whole variety of different forms; sometimes they aren’t visible. I know the Hello campaign will change the way parents, teachers and young people view and understand communication problems. I really hope this will allow children and young people like myself to be recognised and understood, in the same way those with dyslexia and autism are.”

The Hello campaign will improve understanding and disseminate information on typical communication development, how to spot if children are struggling and where to go for help and support. 70% of survey respondents felt that more information on how children develop speech, language and communication
would be helpful, amongst parents this rose to 82%. Only 22% would ask parents, grandparents or friendsfor information on general communication development compared to 39% going to the internet.  The Hello campaign will also prompt tangible improvements for the 1.2 million children and young people in the UK, with some form of long‐term speech, language and communication needs. This means more support for parents and carers, earlier identification of difficulties and earlier, more appropriate, referral to specialist support such as speech & language therapy.

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