Glossary of terms

Families and young people have said that there are some words in our services which can be confusing. Here you will find explanations of what common words mean. Press the arrow next to each term to find out what it means.


AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication)

These are methods of communication used by children who have little speech or their speech is very hard to understand. Depending on their needs it can add to or replace their spoken communication and includes both low tech (e.g. signing or communication books) or high-tech electronic devices.

Click here to learn more about AAC

Active Listening

Taking an active responsibility for understanding a spoken message, e.g. using clarification strategies.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

This is a condition where an individual finds it harder to concentrate on tasks and may act on impulse.

Click here to learn more about ADHD


A difficulty in being able to produce speech and language due to injury to the brain. This typically occurs after a stroke or head trauma.

Click here to learn more about Aphasia {*FIX*}


The process of using the articulators (e.g. tongue, lips and vocal folds) to produce speech sounds.

Articulation Disorder

Characterised by the inability to produce individual speech sounds clearly and difficulty combining sounds correctly for words.


Lips and tongue.


The ability to focus in an appropriate, sustained way on a particular task or activity.

Auditory Discrimination

The ability to recognise and distinguish similarities and differences between speech sounds.

Auditory Memory

The ability to process and retain heard information for long enough to act on it.


Also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder/Condition (ASD/ASC), Autism is a condition which typically presents as difficulties in social interaction, social communication, flexibility of thoughts and difficulties processing sensory information.

Click here to learn more about Autism


British Sign Language (BSL)

The language of the Deaf community in England, Scotland and Wales. BSL is a visual language system which has its own grammar (including grammatical facial expression) and idioms. It is not a signed form of   English.


CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services)

The service offers a wide range of support for young people and their families who have mental health difficulties such as; psychosis, depression, eating disorders, ADHD, self-harm, obsessive compulsive disorders and anxiety.

Cerebral Palsy

A neurological condition that affects movement, posture and coordination.

Click here to learn more about Cerebral Palsy

Clarification Strategies

Identifying why a message has not been understood and then requesting a change in the behaviour of the person giving the message itself to enable understanding e.g. speaking more loudly or more slowly, repeating, rephrasing, adding more specific information etc.

Cleft lip

A structural abnormality, where there is a split in the upper lip, which occurs during foetal development, sometimes associated with cleft palate.

Click here to learn more about how we support children with cleft lip and palate in Oxfordshire

Cleft palate

A structural abnormality whereby the roof of the mouth is not closed completely during foetal development, which may cause associated problems with eating, breathing, articulation and hearing.

Click here to learn more about how we support children with cleft lip and palate in Oxfordshire

Cognitive skills

These are the skills required for all aspects of thinking including the processes of perception, memory, reasoning, language and some types of learning.


Talking about what the child is doing or is involved in – avoiding the use of excessive questioning.  Also known as ‘Descriptive commentary’.


Exchanging information with other people using verbal and  nonverbal means.

Communication Book

A personalised book containing photos or pictures that enable an individual to communicate basic thoughts and ideas by pointing to the pictures in the book. This is a low tech AAC device.

Communication Environment

Who you are talking to and where you talk to them.


Understanding what is said, signed or written (also referred to as Receptive Language).



The ability to use given information in order to solve a problem. Deduction produces new information. At 6 years of age children can typically cope with a simple and visually concrete deduction.


Typical speech and/or language development, but following a child of a younger developmental age.

Developmental Language Disorder or DLD (Formerly ‘Specific Language Impairment’)

When a child’s language disorder (comprehension and/or expression) does not occur with another biomedical condition, such as a genetic syndrome, a sensorineural hearing loss, neurological disease, Autism Spectrum Disorder or Intellectual Disability.

Click here to learn more about DLD {*FIX*}

Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia (DVD)

A motor speech disorder affecting the planning and co-ordination of muscle movements. Speech may be characterised by inconsistent use of sounds, visible groping for sounds, inability to articulate sound sequences when asked to do so on command, after imitation and difficulties increasing with length and complexity of sound sequences.


Atypical speech and/or language development which doesn’t follow the ‘normal’ developmental pattern. The child’s speech and language skills may be developing in an unusual pattern or differently from other children of the same age.

Down Syndrome

A genetic disorder where someone has an additional copy of chromosome 21.

Click here to learn more about Down Syndrome


Muscle weakness which affects the accuracy and power of articulation making speech sound slurred.

Click here to learn more about dysarthria {*FIX*}


Interruptions to the smooth or fluent flow of speech, including sound and word repetitions, tense ‘blocks’ on sounds and facial grimaces. This is also referred to as stammer/stutter.

Click here to learn more about dysfluency {*FIX*}


A disorder/condition that affects an individual’s ability to swallow in a smooth and coordinated manner.

Click here to learn more about dysphagia support in Oxfordshire {*FIX*}

Dyspraxia (or developmental coordination disorder)

Dyspraxia is generally recognised to be an impairment or immaturity of the organisation of planning of coordinated movements. Associated with this may be problems with speech, language, perception and thought.

Click here to learn more about dyspraxia affecting speech {*FIX*}



The repetition of words or phrases heard without understanding and which may be delayed or immediate.


A legal document that outlines the additional support/provisions that must be given to a child with special education needs (SEN). The document is individualised to each child and details their special education, health and social care needs.

Expressive Language

The use of words within phrases and sentences to express ideas and meaning. This language may then be conveyed via speech, sign, symbols or writing.


Functional Communication

The appropriateness of which language is used within a context.

Forced Alternatives

Providing the child with a choice of two items/ object to verbally choose from, one of which is the target item/ object.


Global development delay

A delay in all areas of development i.e. physical, language and communication, learning, social etc.

Glue Ear

A fluctuating hearing loss caused by the intermittent build-up of fluid behind the ear drum.


The rules followed in language; the combination (syntax) or the modifying of words (morphology) to form appropriate phrases or sentences e.g. talking about the past or future.


Hearing Impairment

A hearing impairment may be: sensori-neural hearing loss (permanent); conductive hearing loss (of middle ear origin); fluctuating hearing loss.

Click here to learn more about hearing impairment support in Oxfordshire


Speech sounds affected by too much air flow down the nose.


Speech sounds affected by too little air flow down the nose.  Speech sounds ‘bunged up’.



Any conclusion which one can reasonably be entitled to draw from a sentence or utterance (Hurford et al 1993). Inference uses implied or assumed information. Children begin to infer meaning from approximately 5-6 years but the skill continues to develop until at least 13 years (M Johnson).

Information Carrying Words (ICW)

Also known as Key Words, this is the number of key words that must be understood for the overall meaning of a spoken or signed utterance to be carried out e.g. “Show me the teddy’s nose” (2ICW) or “put the big frog under the table” (4ICW)

Information processing skills

Taking in information, storing this information in memory and retrieving it when needed.

Individual Education Plan (IEP)

Specific targets or strategies put in place to aid a child’s access to the curriculum.


The rhythm of how we speak.



Sound sequences, phrases and sentences with no meaningful content (this refers to child’s language but sometimes covers professionals as well!).


Language Content

The meaning of what is said, signed or written.

Language Form

How what is said, signed or written is organised e.g. rules of grammar, rules of speech.

Language Delay

An individual with language delay presents with language development that follows the normal sequence and pattern but at a slower rate.

Language Disorder

An individual with language disorder presents with language development that does not follow the normal pattern, giving rise to complex language problems in one or more specific areas of language.

Language Use

How a speaker and/or signer uses language in a social context (also known as pragmatics).


A widely used lay term for difficulties pronouncing certain sounds, particularly /s/ and /z/. Speech therapists may use this term, but they are more likely to describe the nature of the error, for example ‘Interdental s’, ‘Lateral affricates’, etc.



A simplified sign and symbol system based on British Sign Language (BSL) and natural gesture.


A strategy to help encourage your child’s language development by adding an extra piece of information to what they say. E.g. if you child says ‘car’, match and add by saying ‘blue car.’


Repeating the child’s sentence, signs and thus providing an example of appropriate words and phrases.


Using two or more senses simultaneously so that the stronger sense can support the weaker. The visual, auditory and kinaesthetic senses are the most frequently used.


Enter short summary

Language which requires prior world knowledge. It is based on words which usually have several meanings or which don’t make sense in combination with the other words used e.g. idioms.

Non-verbal Communication

The parts of communication that do not rely on using spoken words or sentences such as pointing and gesture. Other examples include the use of body language, facial expression, eye contact etc.


Objects of reference

These are objects which have special meanings assigned to them. Objects of reference were initially used with blind people and those with dual sensory impairment. Now also used with people with profound and multiple learning difficulties.


PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)

This is a visual communication system using pictures, symbols or photos. It requires the child to exchange a picture of a desired item with another person to retrieve the item and thus teach the initiation of communication.


The rule-based system of sounds used in speech and how sounds are organised within words to convey different meanings.

Phonological Awareness

The awareness of sounds within words and the ability to manipulate them This includes identifying the initial sound of a word, words that rhyme and the number of syllables within a word.

Phonological delay

An individual with a phonological delay presents with phonological development that follows a typical pattern, but at a slower rate.


The rules about how we use language in social communication, including the appropriate use of eye contact, turn taking, initiation of conversation, maintaining a topic of conversation etc. Someone with pragmatic difficulties may have issues in understanding and using the rules of interaction in an appropriate and flexible way.

Pre-linguistic Skills

Skills needed before language can develop e.g. eye contact, turn taking, pretend play.

PODD (or Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display)

A specific layout of a low-tech symbol vocabulary, these communication books were developed in Australia by Gayle Porter, originally for children with cerebral palsy. These are a form of AAC.


Receptive language

Understanding language. Understanding of what is said or written, including vocabulary, grammar, instructions, stories, others’ non-verbal communication, etc.



This is a model that can be used to engage and support autistic children or those with other communication difficulties. It aims to support communication skills as well as a child’s ability to regulate their emotions and interact socially with others.

Sentence Strips

These are strips that contain a short phrase or sentence that a child can use to support their expressive language.

Selective Mutism

A communication difficulty in which the child finds it difficult to speak in certain situations or to certain people although they can in other situations e.g. at home.

Click here to learn more about selective mutism in children

SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator)

The identified person responsible for coordinating teaching and learning needs, as well as key support services within a setting or school for children with additional needs.


The knowledge of the meaning surrounding words and sentences for example a ‘cat’ has two ears, four legs, fur and says “meow”.

Semantic-Pragmatic Disorder

A term used to describe children who have difficulties with conversational interaction, such as initiating appropriate topics of conversation, and understanding non-literal meanings e.g. “It’s raining cats and dogs”.


The ability to place pictures, writing, events, activities or thoughts in a logical order.

Short-term memory

This is an earlier term for ‘working memory’. The working memory can be defined as the mental space in which we hold information for a relatively short time while we do something with that information. The term working memory makes it clear that there is active processing taking place, such as the execution of instructions or the addition of two numbers.

SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Needs)

SLCN is an ‘umbrella’ term covering children who do not develop speech and language as expected.

Social Skills

The ability to interact with other people appropriately, include making appropriate eye contact, taking turns, using appropriate language, demonstrating listener awareness, initiating interaction and responding to interaction.

Speech Delay

Speech development that is following a normal pattern, but typical of a younger child.

Speech Disorder

Speech development that follows an atypical/irregular pattern.


Speech and Language Therapy/Therapist


Speech and Language Therapy Technical Instructors (SLT TIs) are not registered as therapists but have specific skills and knowledge to support children’s communication skills. They support our SLT’s and are often able to give extra therapy to individuals as needed.

Social Communication Skills

The use of language in social situations, including conversational skills and the understanding and use of non-verbal communication.]

Sound System

The sounds that a child can say and the sound combination rules the child makes use of.


A disorder where someone has a difficulty in being able to maintain their fluency. Stammering (called ‘stuttering’ in parts of the US) disrupts the fluency of speech. Hence, ‘stammers’ or ‘stutters’ are often referred to as ‘dysfluencies’. They may be in the form of prolongations, blocks or repetitions. One or any combination of these features may be present, consistently or variably.

Click here to learn more about how to support children who stammer


Sounds that are made and combined in a set way to express language.


Visual/auditory or kinaesthetic representation of a concept. e.g. picture of an apple that represents an apple.


The rules of combining words to make a sentence (grammar).


Verbal Communication

The parts of communication which are language based.

Verbal Reasoning

Thinking about and solving problems using language.

Visual Timetable

The use of pictures and/or objects to represent different parts of a person’s day. It gives structure to the day and can reduce anxiety levels. Symbols are used to represent the tasks, activities or lessons.


The store of words a child knows and uses.

Voice Problem

A problem with the quality (hoarse/husky), pitch (too high or too low) or volume (too loud or too quiet) of the voice or with the control of the breath for speech.

Click here to learn more about how to support children with voice difficulties


Word Finding Difficulties

The inability to reliably retrieve a known target word from memory.

Page last reviewed: 22 September, 2021