SPEECH AND LANGUAGE DISORDERS
language disorders refer to problems in communication and related
areas such as oral motor function. These delays and disorders range
from simple sound substitutions to the inability to understand or use
language or use the oral-motor mechanism for functional speech and
feeding. Some causes of speech and language disorders include hearing
loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, mental retardation, drug
abuse, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate, and vocal
abuse or misuse. Frequently, however, the cause is unknown.
More than one million of the students served in the public schools’
special education programs in the 1998-99 school year were categorized
as having a speech or language impairment. This estimate does not
include children who have speech/language problems secondary to other
conditions such as deafness. Language disorders may be related to
other disabilities such as mental retardation, autism, or cerebral
palsy. It is estimated that communication disorders (including speech,
language, and hearing disorders) affect one of every 10 people in the
A child's communication is considered delayed when the child is
noticeably behind his or her peers in the acquisition of speech and/or
language skills. Sometimes a child will have greater receptive
(understanding) than expressive (speaking) language skills, but this
is not always the case.
Speech disorders refer to difficulties producing speech sounds or
problems with voice quality. They might be characterized by an
interruption in the flow or rhythm of speech, such as stuttering,
which is called dysfluency. Speech disorders may be problems with the
way sounds are formed, called articulation or phonological disorders,
or they may be difficulties with the pitch, volume or quality of the
voice. There may be a combination of several problems. People with
speech disorders have trouble using some speech sounds, which can also
be a symptom of a delay. They may say "see" when they mean "ski" or
they may have trouble using other sounds like "l" or "r". Listeners
may have trouble understanding what someone with a speech disorder is
trying to say. People with voice disorders may have trouble with the
way their voices sound.
A language disorder is an impairment in the ability to understand
and/or use words in context, both verbally and nonverbally. Some
characteristics of language disorders include improper use of words
and their meanings, inability to express ideas, inappropriate
grammatical patterns, reduced vocabulary and inability to follow
directions. One or a combination of these characteristics may occur in
children who are affected by language learning disabilities or
developmental language delay. Children may hear or see a word but not
be able to understand its meaning. They may have trouble getting
others to understand what they are trying to communicate.
Because all communication disorders carry the potential to isolate
individuals from their social and educational surroundings, it is
essential to find appropriate timely intervention. While many speech
and language patterns can be called "baby talk" and are part of a
young child's normal development, they can become problems if they are
not outgrown as expected. In this way an initial delay in speech and
language or an initial speech pattern can become a disorder which can
cause difficulties in learning. Because of the way the brain develops,
it is easier to learn language and communication skills before the age
of 5. When children have muscular disorders, hearing problems or
developmental delays, their acquisition of speech, language and
related skills is often affected.
Speech-language pathologists assist children who have communication
disorders in various ways. They provide individual therapy for the
child; consult with the child's teacher about the most effective ways
to facilitate the child's communication in the class setting; and work
closely with the family to develop goals and techniques for effective
therapy in class and at home. Technology can help children whose
physical conditions make communication difficult. The use of
electronic communication systems allow nonspeaking people and people
with severe physical disabilities to engage in the give and take of
Vocabulary and concept growth continues during the years children are
in school. Reading and writing are taught and, as students get older,
the understanding and use of language becomes more complex.
Communication skills are at the heart of the education experience.
Speech and/or language therapy may continue throughout a student's
school year either in the form of direct therapy or on a consultant
basis. The speech-language pathologist may assist vocational teachers
and counselors in establishing communication goals related to the work
experiences of students and suggest strategies that are effective for
the important transition from school to employment and adult life.
Communication has many components. All serve to increase the way
people learn about the world around them, utilize knowledge and
skills, and interact with colleagues, family and friends.
Some children do not develop speech and language as expected. They may
experience difficulties with any or all aspects of speech and language
- from moving the muscles which control speech to the ability to
understand or use language at all. These difficulties can range from
the mild to the severe and long-term.
difficulties are unrelated to any other difficulty or disorder - they
are therefore said to be specific language difficulties. Some children
may have both a specific language difficulty and other disabilities.
participation in society depend upon the ability to communicate. It is
vital that children with speech and language impairments are offered
comprehensive help as early as possible.