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Supporting Children with Medical
and Mental Health Needs at School


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Developmental language disorder (DLD) is recognised as a speech, language and communication need.

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Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

  • Developmental language disorder impacts significantly on children’s social interaction and educational progress.
  • In the UK this affects around two children in every year 1 class (1)
  • Children with DLD are more likely to experience difficulties with their learning and to experience social and emotional problems. (1)
  • Children with DLD are at an increased risk of other conditions such as ADHD, reading disorders and motor disorders.
  • Young people with DLD are also more likely than their peers to experience anxiety and depression (2)

Features of DLD

  • Children will find it difficult to understand what is being said to them particularly if people talk quickly or if there are distractions.
  • Difficulties are not associated with hearing loss or other developmental disorders
  • Articulating feelings and ideas can be difficult.
  • As a child progresses through school they are likely to maintain a 2-3-year progress gap with peers.
  • Behavioural problems may mask DLD.

Treatment for DLD

  • Early intervention is important. Recognising the condition pre-school can result in better outcomes.
  • Speech and Language Therapy is the most effective intervention.
  • It is important to encourage parents and carers to develop language and conversation rich opportunities. Individual and group speech and language therapy programmes will help maximise communication skills and help reduce negative consequences such as isolation.
  • Speech and Language therapists can support teachers to integrate supportive strategies into the curriculum.

Supporting students with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)

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Classroom organisation

  • Seat a child with DLD in a place where you can get their attention easily, as listening and understanding can be hard work and a child might switch off during the lesson.
  • Consider your seating plan and groupings so that a child with DLD works with supportive peers.
  • Set up the classroom and plan lessons so that a child can take breaks from listening as this can be very tiring.
  • Have task ready they can complete independently in a quiet space.

Teaching strategies

  • Try to make eye contact and use their name when addressing the child or young person.
  • Use visual supports as much as possible. This rich form of communication will help many children in the class not just those with speech and language difficulties.
  • Use as many senses as possible to teach new topics. Demonstrate, touch, smell and talk.
  • Get into the habit of checking for understanding. This helps all children in the class. One way is for a child to repeat back what they must do in their own words.
  • Give children time to process and find the words.

Using Language

  • Use short simple sentences where possible and summarise what has been said.
  • If instructions involve several steps, count these out and repeat if possible.
  • Link new or harder words to simpler ones, consider if you can draw it or act it out.
  • Questions can be a challenge for children with DLD, try instead to comment on what is being done rather than question it.
  • Word finding can be a challenge, so offer choices. Would you like to use crayons or felt pens?
  • Give the words needed for the answer to a question. Rather than “What were you playing with during break?” Use, “did you play on the bikes or on the climbing frame?”

Developing language Skills

  • Add new words to short statements or sentences that the child might use. For example, “Max on Bike” respond with “Yes, Max is riding the bike”.
  • Model grammar and syntax. Repeat back the correct form rather than simply correcting the error. ”I goed to the park” respond with “Yes, you went to the park”
(1) Law, Tomblin, & Zhang, 2008; Norbury et al., (2017). The impact of nonverbal ability on prevalence and clinical presentation of language disorder: evidence from a population study.
(2) Conti-Ramsden, G. & Botting, N. (2008). Emotional health in adolescents with and without a history of specific language impairment (SLI). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(5), 516-525.

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HOPE (Hospital Organisation of Pedagogues in Europe)