Newcastle University researchers have been working on a new toolkit to identify speech, language and communication problems in very young children.
Delayed language acquisition can have knock-on effects for children's overall development, and identifying problems early is key for them to get the support they need.
The new toolkit is set to be rolled out for health visitors across England, and will soon be making a difference to children's lives.
The Early Language Identification Measure
The toolkit, known as the Early Language Identification Measure (ELIM) consists of a simple word list and child observation, which can be carried out during routine home visits when children are aged 24 and 30 months.
Research led by Newcastle University, published in a new Public Health England report, shows that the ELIM can identify 94% of toddlers with early language needs.
The importance of early identification
Numerous research studies have shown that children with delayed language development do worse at school and have poorer outcomes later in life. It can also signal other developmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
James Law, Professor of Speech and Language Sciences at Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, who led the study, said:
“Early speech and language delays can be a worry for parents and professionals alike, and researchers have been looking for ways to accurately identify children who would benefit from help. The research suggests the Early Language Identification Measure does just this and more accurately than others."
Speaking about putting the toolkit into practice, he continued:
“Once the right children have been identified, the key is for parents and other professionals, such as health visitors and early years practitioners, to work together to find out what would most help the child.
"For children with the most marked difficulties, this may be speech and language therapy, but it may be finding out more about the languages the child uses or pointing parents to resources that help them better understand their child’s needs.”
How the toolkit was developed
In 2018, a team led by Professor Law was commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) and the Department for Education (DfE) to develop a measure of language skills and an accompanying intervention for children attending their health visitor review at 24 and 30 months of age.
The project ran between January 2019 and July 2020 and involved health visitors, early educators and speech and language therapists in five areas - Derbyshire, Middlesbrough, Newham, Wakefield and Wiltshire. More than 800 children were assessed and the ELIM identified 94% of youngsters who needed support.
When a child was identified as needing support, the health visitors would talk with their families to discuss the best ways to help the youngster. Support offered ranged from using online resources to including exercises in everyday life.
Cristina McKean, Professor of Child Language Development and Disorders at Newcastle University, who designed the intervention, said:
"When we worked with health visiting teams on our intervention design, we found there was a real appetite and enthusiasm to support children's speech, language and communication development. However, they felt they needed more guidance as to how to do this successfully,"
"When we spoke to families, it became very clear that whatever support was offered needed to be personalised to consider the specific circumstances of each family. Our intervention model supports practitioners to tailor their approach with families and to find ways to help them to support their children's language development as part of their daily routines."
Speaking about personalisation, Professor Law added:
“As every family’s needs are different, what is required is a carefully constructed conversation, looking to match the child and family’s needs with the resources that are available. Every conversation is different. The key thing is for the practitioners and parents to work together to provide solutions so that the child can be ready for school when the time comes.”
The health visitor training programme will begin in January 2021.
Find out more
This research was carried out by researchers at Newcastle and Aberdeen Universities, the Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit, the Institute of Health Visiting and Robert Rush, an independent education researcher.
To find out more, get in touch with the team: