One in ten children in the UK suffer from a speech and language difficulty - that's more than a million children struggling every day. One Brighton mother, Anita Hall, has three boys, all of whom are affected by this 'hidden' disability.
Life for Anita's family was a real challenge. One by one her boys were diagnosed with communication disabilities, leaving all of them feeling irritated and upset and causing them regularly to lash out. But for her two youngest, Lewis (seven) and Charlie (three and three-quarters), an I CAN Early Years Centre in Brighton has benefited them hugely.
I CAN, in partnership with local education and health authorities, has developed specialised early years centres where children receive support on a one-to-one basis and in small groups through a programme of specialist therapy and education. Research conducted by City University and the University of London's Institute of Education has shown that children attending such centres made significantly greater progress than those receiving other types of support that are routinely available to pre-school children.
Lewis attended the Brighton centre in 2001. Angela says, 'Before Lewis went to the centre he had no speech whatsoever and he was very introverted and shy. He was able to learn Makaton to build his confidence before his language developed further, and after a year he was totally unrecognisable from the boy who I first dropped off! Although Charlie has only been at the centre a month I have already noticed an incredible change.'
Eva March, head teacher at the Brighton centre, explains, 'Both the boys had specific speech and language difficulties when they came to us, with understanding language, making sentences and producing general speech particularly problematic.
'We use pictures and gestures to help the children understand. We also use specific language programmes, aural skill games and phonological awareness activities. We place great emphasis on working very closely with parents to give them ideas of how to follow up at home.'
Clare Geldard, I CAN's early talk manager, stresses that every early years practitioner can have a huge impact on a child's speech, language and communication skills, and early intervention is crucial.
'By slowing your language speed down, chunking phrases into manageable small sections and using visual supports around the nursery, you can really help a child who has difficulty understanding. For a child who has a speech and language difficulty, nursery rhymes are fantastic! The rhythm, rhyme and repetition help a child to learn as you repeat them (with gestures) over and over again, giving them lots of opportunity to learn the words.'
Anita adds, 'My boys now have the self-belief they need to take part in activities, such as football and the upcoming Chatterbox Challenge, which would never have been possible before, and given them not only a voice, but the confidence to use it.'
* Chatterbox Challenge, supported by Nursery World, Tesco Baby & Toddler Club and LeapFrog Toys takes place from 31 January 2005. If your nursery would like to take part, you can order a ChatterPack by calling 0870 4585 475 or by logging on to www. chatterboxchallenge.org.uk
* For more helpful information on communication disabilities please log on to www. talkingpoint.org.uk
* An I CAN conference, 'The Power of Partnerships - how working together in the early years can have an increased impact on children's communication development', takes place on 22 April 2005 at the Business Design Centre in London. The conference will explore multi-agency working, and best practice models that are making the biggest difference to children's communication development and difficulties in the early years. The keynote speaker will be Ann Gross, deputy director, Sure Start.
For more information and to book online visit www. ican.org.uk/conference or call 0845 225 4073.