Speech and Language Impairments
By the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
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 2000-2001 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.
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
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.
pathologists assist children who have communication disorders in
various ways. They provide individual therapy for the child; consult
with the childs teacher about the most effective ways to facilitate
the childs communication in the class setting; and work closely
with the family to develop goals and techniques for effective therapy
in class and at home. 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.
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 shared thought.
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 students school years either
in the form of direct therapy or on a consultant basis.
A. (2001). Children with communication disorders (ERIC Digest #E617).
Arlington, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education.
(Available online at: http://ericec.org/digests/e617.html)
H. (1996). Children with facial differences: A parents' guide. Bethesda,
MD: Woodbine House. (Telephone: 800.843.7323. Web: www.woodbinehouse.com)
Palate Foundation. (1997). For parents of newborn babies with cleft
lip/cleft palate. Chapel Hill, NC: Author. (Telephone: 800.242.5338.
Also available online at: www.cleftline.org)
C. (2001). Your cleft-affected child: The complete book of information,
resources and hope. Alameda, CA: Hunter House. (Web: www.hunterhouse.com)
P. M. (2001). Childhood speech, language, & listening problems:
What every parent should know (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley &
Sons, Inc. (Telephone: 800.225.5945. Web:
for Technology Access
2175 E. Francisco Boulevard, Suite L
San Rafael, CA 94901
Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
10801 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
301.897.5700 (V/TTY); 800.638.8255
Apraxia of Speech Association of North America (CASANA)
123 Eisele Road
Cheswick, PA 15024
104 South Estes Drive, Suite 204
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
230 West Monroe Street, Suite 1800
Chicago, IL 60606
Disabilities Association of America (LDA)
4156 Library Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15234-1349
Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A., Inc.
1733 Sixteenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009-3199
Research and Development Center
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1550 Engineering Dr.
2107 Engineering Hall
Madison, WI 53706
608.262-6966; 608.263.5408 (TTY)
The information presented on this site is intended
solely as a general educational aid, and is neither medical nor
healthcare advice for any individual problem, nor a substitute for
medical or other professional advice and services from a qualified
healthcare provider familiar with your unique circumstances. Always
seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare
professional regarding any medical condition and before starting
any new treatment.