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Speech, Language and Communication Needs in teenagers: it’s never too late

by | Nov 18, 2023

At secondary school, the increasingly complex and nuanced language, volume of information, challenges of juggling multiple subjects, teachers and peers, combined with the effects of adolescence and significant structural changes within the teenage brain can cause previously unnoticed speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) to emerge.  Not only this, social expectations ramp up at a time when children are trying to establish their identity and fit in with their peers.

A teenager with SLCN is likely to have:

  • A growing awareness of their ‘difference’
  • More complex social relationships
  • Increased demand to process emotional information
  • Historical dependence on others or ‘learned helplessness’
  • Anxiety about the future
  • Learning and attainment differences
  • Increased demand to be independent in their learning and support of themselves, in and outside of school


Some students, particularly girls, are good at masking and are more likely to be missed, until well within their secondary years.  Sadly, it is not uncommon for needs to get identified only as a result of extreme behaviours such as self-harming, eating disorders, skipping school and angry outbursts.

Why identification and intervention are vital at secondary school

Students with SLCN require support to develop the skills they need to fully access the curriculum and the social skills required for increased social participation. Improved language and communication skills not only enables new opportunities but can improve behaviour.  Whilst it may feel that the opposite is true, with the increased use of mobile phones and other technology, there is an increased reliance on competent verbal skills in adolescent interaction.

Without identification and the right interventions to support them, students with SLCN are at risk of mental health issues, behavioural problems, low self-esteem, difficulty making friends, low attainment and attendance, and ultimately reduced life chances. In terms of exams and further education, 20% of students with SLCN achieve grade 4/C or above in English and Maths at GCSE, compared with 64% of all pupils.

Students will have many different teachers across multiple subjects involving vastly different skill sets and it can be very difficult for staff to keep track of individual learners’ needs and for the students themselves to recognise and understand their particular challenges. Despite the evidenced benefits of early intervention, it is NEVER too late to assess and support the needs of a student and thus reduce any further risks associated with SLCN.


Secondary Language Link

Secondary Language Link enables schools to identify students’ language and communication needs early and put timely individualised intervention in place to reduce the barriers preventing them from achieving their full academic and communication potential.

Its easy-to-administer online assessment is designed to screen all students in KS3, to ensure that none fall under the radar, whilst its fully planned and resourced interventions allow your staff to put targeted support in place for those who need it.

Secondary Language Link also includes online staff training, created and presented by our speech and language therapists, to promote the understanding of SLCN and empower teachers to develop communication-friendly classroom environments.

Research studies on the impact of Secondary Language Link demonstrate that students’ functional language and communication skills significantly improved following intervention and increased student confidence. It also allows them to take ownership of their learning through individualised student ‘Communication Contracts’ which they can share with each of their teachers to let them know the learning strategies which best support their needs.

Through identification and support, the risks young people with SLCN face can be reduced, benefitting not only them but the wider community.

See more blogs like this at the Speech and Language link blogs

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