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Communication Difficulty


From time to time, we all find it difficult to communicate. We’ve all experienced the ‘tip of the tongue phenomenon(1) - “What is that actor’s name? You know, thingy, he was in that film with all those things happening...” or slurred speech from tiredness, illness, medication or inebriation, or quiet, breathy voice because of nervousness or anxiety.

There are some children and adults who experience a more pervasive communication difficulty. It is either developmental or acquired, it may be consistent or variable, it may be temporary or permanent.

These are children and adults who cannot process the English language effectively or consistently such that they cannot understand and/or or use pronouns (before any other demands are made on them to change pronoun usage), or neologisms (new, made-up words) like “cisgender” or confusing or unclear language such as gender-neutral language like “person with a cervix” or “menstruators”.



It is already a challenge for those without communication disabilities to remember and articulate neologisms/neopronouns such as:

  • Xe/xem/xyrs/xemself

  • Xy/xyr/xyrs/xyrself

  • Hi/hir/hirs/hirself

  • Ze/zir/zirs/zirself

  • Ey/em/eirs/emself

  • Ne/nem/nems/nemself

  • Fae/faer/faers/faerself

  • Ae/aer/aers/aerself

  • Thon/thon/thon/thonself

  • Per/per/pers/perself

  • Ve/ver/vers/verself

  • Zee/zed/zeta/zetas/zedself

A child in a classroom who is struggling.

Now imagine having a cognitive, learning, sensory, speech or language disability and being expected to understand or use these.

Every single one of the conditions we cover here means that children can make errors in understanding or using grammatically and pragmatically regular pronouns. To then ask them to process ‘preferred’ pronouns or neopronouns (neologisms) or other confusing terms is asking them to do something they are unable to do effectively, consistently or at all.

It is a demand on their system that they cannot reasonably meet. This will manifest differently dependent on the condition, the child and the communication circumstances.

And of course, there are children out there who no-one has spotted has a communication disability, has been unfortunately mis-diagnosed, or is not receiving the therapy and support they need.


A group of children holding a banner - e Don't Need No Preferred Pronouns

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists provides the following list of difficulties in children, for whom speech and language therapists provide treatment:

Some children have more than one of these communication disabilities  at the same time. It is not unusual for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who may also have support from a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) to be eligible for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan. 


As outlined by the Government:

Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)

All publicly funded pre-schools, nurseries, state schools and local authorities must try to identify and help assess children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

If a child has an education, health and care (EHC) plan or a statement of special educational needs, these must be reviewed annually. From Year 9 the child will get a full review to understand what support they will need to prepare them for adulthood.

Higher education

All universities and higher education colleges should have a person in charge of disability issues that you can talk to about the support they offer.

You can also ask local social services for an assessment to help with your day-to-day living needs.

Let’s look at some examples where children find it difficult to communicate in relation to pronouns and in a wider language context.

Template Letters

The templates, below, can be downloaded and edited for anyone wanting to complain or make requests in relation to children with communication disabilities.

Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (England) - suggested template for letter to relevant organisation/s.

MS Word Version | PDF Version



(1) Kim J, Kim M, Yoon JH. 2020. The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon in older adults with subjective memory complaints. PLoS One. Sep 18;15(9):e0239327.

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