Language Pathway

For Early Years Language

Early Years Language Pathway

In the Early Years (from birth to when a child starts full-time school), a child’s communication skills develop quickly.  Learning language is a complex skill that involves attention, listening, social skills, understanding, word and sound knowledge and muscle coordination.  Children may experience difficulties in any of these areas.

What difficulties with early language development may look like?

Children may have difficulties:

  • Concentrating on activities
  • Listening and responding to others
  • Interacting with others
  • Understanding what is said to them and following instructions
  • Using a range of words or using any words at all
  • Using sentences at an appropriate level to express themselves
  • Speaking clearly

How may a Speech and Language Therapist help parents/carers to develop their skills to support their child

Our Speech and Language Therapy team supports and promotes children’s communication and language development in the Early Years (up to when a child goes to primary school). We assess, diagnose, and develop programmes of care, including training of the wider workforce and parents/carers to improve outcomes for children with language difficulties.

We currently offer the following packages of care:

  1. Play to Talk – a webinar which provides information on communication and strategies that parents/carers can use with their child to support the development of their communication skills.
  2. Play and Talk Together – an approach that works with parents/carers to develop strategies and skills to support their child’s communication in everyday play and interaction
  3. Joining Words – a therapy package with activities focusing on developing a child’s understanding and use of two-word phrases.  This also involves developing their understanding and use of action words and knowledge of how words can be linked within categories.
  4. Building Sentences – a therapy package with activities focusing on developing a child’s understanding and use of three key word phrases.  This involves developing their understanding and use of a range of concept words.

How do you refer to the Early Years Language team?

We accept referrals from parents/carers, health professionals (such as Health Visitors and GP), and other professionals (such as nursery staff or portage workers). We ask that you complete an Early Years checklist so that we can identify the most appropriate care for each child.

Cut-off for Early Years Speech and Language Therapy referrals

For children who will be starting in Reception at primary school in September 2022, the last date an Early Years Speech and Language Therapy referral will be accepted is 31 May 2022. This will allow time for the child to be seen for their initial assessment and have a report written with targets and advice by the time they start school. This will greatly support the transition process as the school staff will receive clear recommendations on how to support the child in their new setting; this will also help ease parental anxiety during the transition phase. These referrals will be accepted in the usual way, with a completed SPA form and Early Years checklist.

If a child is not referred by 31 May, they can be referred via the SENCo at school. Please note that a referral for a school-aged child requires evidence of how the school has supported the child for two academic terms with clear outcomes of the strategies and interventions which have been put in place. Children not referred by 31 May, will not be able to be referred to the school aged service until Summer term 2023.

Download and complete the Early Years Checklist

What can you do at home in the meantime?

You can visit to see how your baby or child is getting on with their speech, language, and communication development.

The following websites provide simple activities and games that you can carry out with your child to develop their speech, language, and communication skills:

You can visit your local children’s centre that provide a range of groups that are aimed at supporting parents/carers in developing their child’s communication skills. Families can find out about Play and Communication services at their local children’s centre at:

School Age Language

Speech and Language – School Age Service

Children who have difficulties with their language development after the age of five are known as having a Language Disorder. This may impact their understanding of language (receptive language), their use of language (expressive language) or both. You may also notice that it impacts other areas, such as their attention, learning, literacy, friendships, emotions, behaviour or organisation skills.

If a child speaks more than one language, then you will see difficulties with understanding and speaking in all languages that they speak.

What might language disorder look like? 

Every child with language disorder will be different and may not experience difficulties in all these areas. The areas they find difficult may also change with age.

Children with language disorder may have difficulty with:

  • Following instructions.
  • Learning new words.
  • Understanding what they have read.
  • Answering questions.
  • Explaining what happened or telling stories accurately.
  • Remembering the right word - they may say “thingy” or “stuff” a lot. Or they may get the feeling of “tip of the tongue”.  This is called Word Finding Difficulties.
  • Negotiating with peers and following rules of games.
  • Forming sentences - they may use short sentences, put words in the wrong order or miss out little words, such as “is” and “the”.
  • Grammar - they may have difficulties with using the right tense. You might notice they miss the endings off words, such as “-ing”, “-s” and “-ed”.
  • Understanding non-literal language - they may be confused by idioms, jokes, metaphors. They may have difficulty making predictions and inferences.

What causes language disorders?

A language disorder can be associated with another condition, such as:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (or Condition)
  • Sensori-neural hearing loss.
  • Neuro-degenerative conditions.
  • Brain injury.
  • Acquired epileptic aphasia in childhood.
  • Genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome.
  • Cerebral Palsy.
  • Intellectual disability.

However, the most common diagnosis is Developmental Language Disorder.

What is Developmental Language Disorder (DLD)?

DLD means that a child will have significant, on-going difficulties understanding and/or using language. This will impact all languages that they use. It is not known what causes DLD. It is not caused by other medical conditions. We know that it is not caused by parenting, speaking other languages, emotional difficulties or any other environmental reasons.

It is very common - roughly 1 in 14 children have DLD. That is roughly two children in every mainstream classroom.

It is a hidden condition - you can’t see when someone has DLD.

How may a Speech and Language Therapist help parents/carers to develop their skills to support their child? 

Our Speech and Language Therapy team offers a child centred, evidence-based approach for children and young people aged 0-16 (or 19 if they have an Education, Health and Care Plan) to their parents/carers, and professionals working with the child and young person within educational settings.  

We offer assessment, training, intervention and advice to support children and young people who have difficulties with their language and communication, including those with Developmental Language Disorder.

Assessment and/or intervention takes place within the child or young person’s familiar and natural environments, such as home or school. 

How can you get in contact with the Speech and Language Service? 

In the first instance, share your concerns or queries with the Teacher, and the Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or Inclusion Manager at your child’s school. They will be able to speak to you about your concerns and share ways in which they will, or already are, supporting your child to develop their language skills.  

More ideas about how your school can support a child with Developmental Language Disorder or language difficulties can be found here: DLD leaflet - Information for schools 

The SENCO or Inclusion Manager can also make a referral to the Speech and Language Therapy team if needed. In order to make a referral we require the following information:

  1. A fully completed Single Point Access (SPA) form
  2. A completed Speech and Language Therapy Screener. Screener for KS1&2. Screener for KS3&4.
  3. Evidence about what strategies have already been tried in school for at least two terms. It is important to include a review of these. If you need help with this, speak to your Speech and Language Therapist.

What can you do at home in the meantime? 

Click here to see the Developmental Language Disorder - Parent Leaflet

  • Get their attention by using their name before an instruction.
  • Use short sentences and simple language to help them to understand.
  • Repeat instructions and key points if necessary.
  • Give your child more time to process what you have said and give a response.
  • Use visuals - pictures, objects, drawings, or gestures can help them to understand what you are saying and to learn new words.
  • Encourage your child to communicate with you however they can (e.g. gesture, pointing, facial expressions).
  • If your child can, encourage them to describe the word when they get stuck - Where did you find it? What does it look like? What group does it belong to?
  • Help them to learn skills to join in with other children. Play games at home that help develop social skills, such as turn taking and listening to others.

1. Raising Awareness of Developmental Language Disorder (RADLD) -

  • Provide DLD Fact Sheets in a range of languages
  • Every year, RADLD organise “DLD Day” and share resources. This is an opportunity to raise awareness of DLD in your child’s school &/or at home.
  • RADLD also have many Youtube videos explaining DLD and include interviews with parents and people with DLD:
  • Links to other useful websites relating to DLD:

2. The DLD Project -

3. DLD and Me -

  • Australian website with information for parents and professionals about DLD

4. iCAN / Communication Trust -

5. Useful webinar and training links:


Youth Offending Service (YOS)

At the Youth Offending Service, the Speech and Language Therapist provides support to young people aged 10-18 years old, who are attending Barking and Dagenham (B&D) YOS and who may be experiencing a range of language and communication difficulties. These might include: -

  • Finding it difficult to pay attention
  • Not understanding what words mean
  • Needing instructions simplified
  • Not using sentences of more than a few words
  • Uses sentences that are grammatically immature
  • Not being able to sequence events/retell stories
  • Not being able to find the correct word for something
  • Not being able to follow topics of conversation
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships
  • Difficultly describing thoughts and feelings
  • Hesitating or repeating sounds/syllables
  • Unclear speech

ALL young people referred to YOS Speech and Language Therapist are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or (dis) ability.

What happens with the YOS Speech and Language Therapist?

With the YOS Speech and Language Therapist, young people can discuss their difficulties in a safe place and work together towards future goals.

The speech and language therapist may use some assessments, games and/or activities to find out their strengths and to find out more about the extra help required. The Speech and Language Therapist will not expect young people to do anything against their will. 

How to get involved with the YOS Speech and Language Therapist

A referral will be made to the Speech and Language Therapist by a YOS caseworker. The referral form will be completed by the young person and their YOS caseworker. Sometimes the young people can approach the Speech and Language Therapist for a referral.

After a referral has been received by the Speech and Language Therapist, they will contact the YOS caseworker to arrange an appointment for the young people, for a “Meet and Greet” session. At the “Meet and Greet” session, the young people will decide if they need the Speech and Language Therapy support and if so, future appointments will be made with the young person. The Speech and Language Therapist will book appointments directly with the young person to offer the most appropriate times and days that suit the young people.


Young people are usually seen in the YOS building where there is a quiet, comfortable space to talk. Sometimes (if it would be helpful) appointments can be offered elsewhere e.g., at home, school or college.

Nothing is required for the first appointment. However, it might be helpful for the young people to write down any questions and take them along to their appointments. Family members or carers are also welcomed to attend first appointments.

B&D YOS Speech and Language Therapist works with young people to: -

  • identify their strengths
  • help them understand their difficulties.
  • develop strategies to improve their language and communication skills
  • build their confidence and independence as they prepare for their future: - court, education, employment etc.

The Speech and Language Therapist also works together with other professionals (e.g. Clinical Psychologists, Specialist Nurses, teachers, social workers and family therapists) to give the best care possible. 

Please speak to your YOS Speech and Language Therapist if you have any questions.

Barking and Dagenham YOS Health
C/O Speech and Language Therapy Service for Children
Children and Family Centre
Axe Street
IG11 7LZ

Tel: 0300 300 1751