We had a fantastic time at our first ever virtual conference – The Link Live 2021. A massive thank you to all of our presenters for a really educational two days. In addition, a big thank you to all of our delegates to who took part in our conference and who engaged in all of the webinars.

Day 1: Friday 21st May 2021

Our first talk on the Friday was from one of our keynote speakers, Jean Gross CBE, who offered a very practical session about support for emotional needs, and speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), and how they are really dovetailed together.

We then moved on to Rose Brooks who discussed her research on word learning. We learnt some really useful information about adapting our understanding of how words sound and what they mean in order to make the most difference in vocabulary development.

Anna Sowerbutt’s talk was a revelation. It was great to hear about the work that she and her colleagues have been doing for Developmental Language Disorder (DLD); they are working on enabling children to really understand their needs and to identify how others can support them.

Our final talk on Friday was from Adam Annand, who provided us with an opportunity to physically join in the webinar; did you take part? We were asked to think about how else we can communicate creatively, with a key concept of ‘playing up’.

Day 2: Saturday 22nd May 2021

It was lovely to be welcomed back on Saturday morning with Speech and Language Therapist, Juliet Leonard. Juliet gave an eye-opening session about how teens’ brains develop and how to include this in the support of young people with speech, language and communication needs.

Stephen Parsons joined us in the morning, where he focussed on the importance of verbal reasoning and how language supports emotional literacy and problem solving skills within his resources.

Marie Gascoigne, clearly identified that it is not just speech and language therapists, or just schools, or just TAs who have all of the answers. She talked about the importance of making sure that all parts of the system work together. Marie’s Q&A at the end of the session created a discussion about the importance of evaluation of impact rather than just a focus on inputs, which is definitely something worth thinking about. A shocking statistic came from Marie’s webinar, people are twice more likely to be unemployed at adulthood if they had poor vocabulary at the age of 5.

We were also joined by Lorraine Petersen, who talked to us about the impact of anxiety on pupils’ learning and how COVID might have impacted on this. It was really useful to hear about anxiety for Secondary pupils too, which linked well with Juliet’s webinar earlier in the day.

Our last talk of the day was from Sherann Hillman, who reminded us about the importance of supporting parents, especially parents who have needs of their own. There were some great ideas in Sherann’s talk for coproduction and establishing strong relationships. All of our delegates got to chat to each other during these webinars, and we noticed a lot of lovely comments in Sherann’s chat about how inspirational she was as she offered lots of helpful resources for supporting parents.

What themes unfolded?

Some themes that we have noticed in our first ever virtual conference – The Link Live 2021 – is the links between social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) issues and speech, language and communication. Ensuring that mental health leads are trained up in SLCN was another theme that was identified which might be an issue going forward.

Another theme that we noticed at the conference was the importance of SLCN screening for children and young people, across the age groups. How do we make sure that these needs are supported and that they are not contributing towards SEMH issues?

A key point shown in the conference was about working together; schools and parents, pupils and staff, organisation partners/wider partners and practitioners. We know that working together makes the biggest difference for children and young people with SLCN. It really is everybody’s ‘business’ to ensure early identification of these needs. An example of a screening tool would be Speech Link and Language Link, which are used across all ages (4-14 years) and include resources for school interventions and for parents/carers supporting from home. We know the impact of unidentified speech, language and communication needs on pupils, in terms of their learning, their emotional and mental health, and in terms of their outcomes, right the way through into adulthood. So, let’s work together to support their SLCN journey from 4-14 years and beyond.

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