THE BLOG

Specific Language Impairment is More Common Than Autism but Who Has Heard of It?

07/06/2012 16:25 BST | Updated 07/08/2012 10:12 BST

Specific language impairment (SLI) is so common it affects up to one child in every class and is as common as dyslexia and more common than autism but is barely heard of by the general public. A group of leading Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) clinicians and academics including: Gina Conti-Ramsden, Professor of Child Language and Learning at the University of Manchester; Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at Oxford University; Maggie Snowling, Professor of Psychology at the University of York; Dr. Courtenay Norbury, Head of the Literacy, Language and Communication Laboratory at Royal Holloway, University of London; along with Becky Clark, Speech and Language Therapist, have got together to try to raise awareness and to provide some really practical advice and explanation for people in video format on the web www.youtube.com/rallicampaign. The RALLI campaign to raise awareness is a means of highlighting SLI to the wider community as a whole and to give more recognition to this hidden disability. This is the first time such good quality insight and advice has become available to other professionals such as teachers, parents and children themselves. These accessible video clips clearly explain what SLI is, how it presents and what sort of difficulties these children are likely to have.

Specific language impairment is a language learning problem where children don't have any other developmental difficulties but struggle to understand language or to verbally communicate what they want to say. There is no obvious cause for SLI, the child will have normal hearing and no physical impairments. This also means the child with SLI will have developed and will be developing quite normally in all other areas, so will be achieving all the usual developmental milestones; walking, self feeding, being sociable and looking after themselves at the right times but children with SLI will usually present with delayed development of talking. SLI will present as a child who does not follow instructions correctly, a child who does not follow or pick up on conversation, perhaps they struggle to put words together or struggle to find the right word that they want to say.

It is essential that children are diagnosed with SLI as early as possible. A diagnosis is usually made by a Speech and Language Therapist usually with input from Educational Psychology if the child is of school age. The implications for a child with SLI and the family are extensive where they often know something is not 'right' but struggle to get a diagnosis or the right support. SLI will significantly affect how a child learns and affect their educational development as they start school. It can also affect children socially with potential problems forming friendships if they struggle to communicate with their peers. There is every possibility that a child not understanding could be perceived as a child not listening, or misbehaving which could affect the child's self esteem. Having a diagnosis of SLI can be hugely beneficial in enabling children and their families to access help and support. SLT will ensure that the best support is put in place for the children at home and school, liaising with teachers or other professionals and will be able to offer therapy to work on specific aspects of language that a child struggles with.

SLI is a surprisingly common impairment that can have huge consequences for children and their families and is barely known about by the general population. Parents, teachers, nursery staff or any professionals with concerns about a child who appears to have a language learning problem should seek a referral to SLT through the child's GP, health visitor or self referral to the local SLT service. The leading SLTs and academics who have devised the RALLI campaign are passionate about raising awareness of this impairment as well as providing a resource of knowledge and information to professionals, parents and children to increase diagnosis, understanding and ultimately support and help for this hidden but disabling impairment.