What Are Speech and Language Disorders?
Speech and language disorders are part of a larger category known as “communication disorders.” A communication disorder is an impairment in a person’s ability to receive, send, process, and comprehend concepts or verbal, nonverbal, and graphic symbol systems. A communication disorder may affect a person’s ability to communicate through hearing, language, and/or speech and may be mild to profound in severity. There are four main types of communication disorders:
- A speech disorder is an impairment of the production of speech sounds, fluency, and/or voice. Examples include:
–An articulation disorder means that the person speaks or makes sounds in an atypical way. Their speech may include substitutions, omissions, additions or distortions that make it difficult to be understood. Someone with an articulation disorder, for instance, has difficulty making the correct sound when using the letters “r,” “l,” or “s.”
–A fluency disorder is an interruption in the flow of speaking. People with articulation disorders tend to speak with atypical rates or rhythms. They have repetitions in sounds, syllables, words, and phrases. Their speech may be produced with noticeable tension, such as when people stutter.
–A voice disorder is the abnormal production and/or absence of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, and/or duration. These speaking qualities are inappropriate for that person’s age and/or gender.
- A language disorder is impaired comprehension and/or use of spoken, written, or other forms of language. The disorder may affect how the person processes their native language’s form (e.g., grammar), content (e.g., vocabulary), or function (e.g., use of communication in a socially appropriate way).
- A hearing disorder may limit the development, comprehension, production, and/or maintenance of speech and/or language. Individuals with hearing impairment may be described as deaf or hard of hearing.
- Auditory processing disorders are deficits in the way that the central nervous system uses auditory information that are not the result of other higher-order cognitive or language disorders. In other words, a person’s hearing may test as completely normal but he/she still has great difficulty processing spoken language correctly.
- Speech and language disorders are more common in males and in families with a history of these disorders. Although the prevalence depends on the specific diagnosis, approximately 1%-7% of school-age children are diagnosed with speech and language disorders. These numbers decrease with age. Speech-language disorders may be a primary disability or may occur with other disabilities.
Speech and language disorders are diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist. Diagnosis occurs through a combination of techniques and includes a speech-language pathologist, client, parent(s), teacher(s), and significant other(s) if applicable. Diagnosis usually includes client and/or parent interviews, standardized testing, and observation of the client/child. Although a speech-language pathologist may provide screenings for hearing disorders and auditory processing disorders, these disorders are formally diagnosed by an audiologist.
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