Speech and/or language impairment can occur as a specific learning difficulty in children who seem to be making good progress in other areas. However, children with other SEN problems can show up with speech and language difficulties as a secondary handicap.
A difficulty with ‘speech’ is most easily described as poor pronunciation in comparison with other children of the same age. This can be very slight (perhaps affecting only one speech sound) or severe (affecting many speech sounds and resulting in incomprehensible speech). The latter is likely to cause a lot of frustration, especially if even family members can’t understand. Sometimes no reason for the difficulty is evident. Sometimes there is a history of family members having a similar problem, or known health issues which reduced the child’s hearing ability in the early years, or a problem with lip and tongue movements.
‘Language’ is broader. Comprehension (or receptive language skills) may be poor. A child may seem to have a very short attention span and/or not to remember information / instructions. On the other hand, comprehension may seem okay but expressive language not so good so the child cannot use age-appropriate vocabulary and sentences. This is very frustrating for the child and listeners.
When a child has a marked difficulty with both speech and language, or is severely dysfluent (stammer), or will not talk at all in some situations, it is advisable to get a professional opinion and advice on the best action to take as soon as possible.