DEFINITION OF SPEECH AND LANGUAGE DISORDERS
Speech and 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 United States.
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
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.
Sometimes these 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.
Education and 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.