Could the success of The King's Speech boost efforts to help children with communication difficulties?

She was a quiet baby, and a quiet child. But it was not to an extent that was particularly alarming. I remember sitting in the garden with my husband, saying: 'This time next year, we won't be able to shut her up.'"

When Laura first noticed that her two-year-old daughter, Eleanor, was quieter than other children, she assumed it was only a matter of time before she caught up with her peers. Yet Laura has spent the past five years trying to provide the support Eleanor needs to cope with complex communication problems that, to the untrained eye, were completely hidden.

Realising that a child is struggling to communicate, and trying to find them the right help, may seem a far cry from the drama of a grown monarch's attempts to overcome his stammer. But a coalition of organisations that help children with communication difficulties hopes that the box-office success of The King's Speech – in which Colin Firth portrays King George V and his friendship with a speech therapist – will boost its campaign to raise awareness about the 1.2 million children in Britain who struggle to communicate. The Communication Trust, a body representing more than 35 charities and non-profit organisations, is launching the Hello 2011 Year of Communication campaign at the end of the month.

The trust plans to target parents, education and healthcare professionals, and those who buy and provide services for children and young people, with information about identifying and supporting children with communication problems. The campaign has received the backing of more than 50 organisations, including the departments of education and health, and from BT. "What The King's Speech brings home is that it is really hurtful to have difficulties communicating," said the Government's communication champion, Jean Gross, who is helping to lead the campaign. "The extent of that is visible in the film. They may not have stammers but the effect is the same. The film can only help awareness, as long as we understand that there are these more subtle kinds of speech and language difficulties."

According to the trust, as many as one in ten children suffer from some form of long-term and persistent difficulty in communicating, ranging from an inability to say words or construct sentences, to problems understanding instructions and lessons. These problems often go undiagnosed, and one of the Hello campaign's key aims is to make the public aware that children can experience a diverse range of difficulties that are far harder to identify than a stammer or poor pronunciation.

"You are desperately wanting to find out what is wrong. But without a label, without knowing what is wrong, it is very difficult to know what direction to take," said Laura. "If I'd known more about speech and language at that stage, it would have given me another option to explore."

The Communication Trust hopes the Hello campaign will help to improve the level of information given to parents, in particular guidance on recognising the stages of language development. The trust also hopes to make communication difficulties a priority among frontline staff dealing with children, many of whom have little knowledge about speech and language problems in children. The trust's aim is to make sure that by the end of the year, children with communication difficulties are receiving help more quickly.

The year of communication was originally proposed by John Bercow MP, now the Speaker of the House of Commons, following his 2008 review of services for children with speech, language and communication needs. The review found that 77 per cent of parents who wanted help dealing with a child's communication difficulties did not get the support and information they needed. When Tracy King realised her twin 18-month-old daughters, Rachel and Sarah, were developing communication skills more slowly than her son had, it was the beginning of a draining 10-year struggle to provide them with the support they needed.

Though she managed to get her daughters into a special-needs school, where they made progress using a communication system incorporating gestures and facial expressions called Makaton, eventually the girls were forced to go to a mainstream primary. With large, noisy classrooms and scant additional support, they found it difficult to keep up. "No one ever believed that I knew my children better than they did," Tracy said. "It felt like complete repression and control. They would come home and not want to read, yet the school would pressure me and I would feel guilty."

Tracy's Local Education Authority (LEA) would not provide expert help for Rachel, who had more severe problems than her sister. The family racked up large credit-card bills paying specialists to assess Rachel in a bid to force the authority to pay for a speech therapist. The LEA agreed to come up with the funding only when her case was on the verge of going to court.

"A key issues for children with communications difficulties is they fall through the gaps between health and education," said Gross. "That is because the budget is with health organisations but the responsibility for children is with the local authority."

Poor language and speech abilities are often linked to poverty, and as many as half of children from deprived areas can have delayed communication skills. According to Gross, many of these children have less severe difficulties which can be dealt with effectively by parents and teachers in a natural environment.

Schools can help children with communication problems by providing "communication friendly" classrooms, with low noise levels and limited visual distractions. Teachers can also use visual tools such as illustrated timetables and puppets to ensure children with communication difficulties are not excluded. Gross also believes that teaching assistants could be used more effectively to tackle communication difficulties by taking small groups of children out of the classroom for regular short sessions.

"If you can reduce the number of children with the less serious difficulties, then you can focus language therapists on children with the more long-term biological impairments," she said. "At the moment, waiting lists get clogged up with children who could be helped more effectively by those who are with them round the clock."

For children with severe problems, Gross says that funding must be directed more carefully to ensure the costs of failing to tackle communication problems are not felt later on. She points out that ability to communicate effectively is one of the strongest determinants of a child's educational attainment and employment prospects in later life. It can also have a significant impact on behaviour, and at least 60 per cent of young offenders have communication problems.

Despite difficulties, both Tracy and Laura eventually managed to find the right support for their children. Eleanor was assessed as having complex speech, language and communication needs at the age of two-and-a-half. However, two years in a mainstream school caused her to regress and become less communicative, despite the efforts of the school's speech and language unit. Now seven, Eleanor has spent the past 18 months at the I CAN Meath school in Surrey which specialises in helping children with severe and complex speech, language and communication needs. Laura says that at Meath, Eleanor is "confident and happy and surrounded by people who support her way of communicating".

After a difficult time at primary school, Rachel and Sarah moved to a more accommodating secondary. Staff rapidly learned from the speech therapist grudgingly provided by the LEA and worked hard to make the girls feel comfortable. The 17-year-olds are now both at college, where Sarah is studying for an A-level equivalent diploma in performing arts and Rachel is doing a first diploma in art.

For Tracy, the most satisfying aspect of her daughters' progress is they are socially active. "They have really good relationships because of their language skills," she said. "From being children who were not able to communicate, they have had their confidence and self-esteem raised, which has enabled them to be where they are today."

Plain speaking

The Communication Trust estimates that 1.2 million children and young people have a long-term and persistent speech, language and communication difficulty.

A YouGov poll of 349 teachers found only 27 per cent received training on speech, language and communication.

A poll undertaken by the children's communication charity I CAN showed that only 43 per cent of parents of under-fives were able to correctly identify the stages of communication.

According to I CAN, in areas of poverty, more than half of children start school with delayed communication skills.

Two-thirds of seven to 14-year-olds with serious behavioural problems have language impairment.

Two-thirds of young people in young offender institutions have communication difficulties.

Just 15 per cent of children with communication difficulties achieve 5 GCSE A*– C passes or equivalent compared with the 57 per cent average.

When language difficulties are resolved by the age of five-and-a-half, students are more likely to go on to develop good literacy skills and pass as many exams as children without a history of communication difficulties.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Nursery Nurse

£40 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse needed in salfordI a...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition