Speech Disorders and Language Disorders
A speech disorder refers to a problem with the actual production of sounds, whereas a language disorder refers to a difficulty understanding or putting words together to communicate ideas.
Speech/oral motor/fluency disorders include:
- Articulation disorders: difficulties producing sounds in syllables or saying words incorrectly to the point that listeners can’t understand what’s being said.
- Fluency disorders: problems such as stuttering, in which the flow of speech is interrupted by abnormal stoppages, repetitions (st-st-stuttering), or prolonging sounds and syllables (ssssstuttering).
- Resonance or voice disorders: problems with the pitch, volume, or quality of the voice that distract listeners from what’s being said. These types of disorders may also cause pain or discomfort for a child when speaking.
- Dysphagia/oral feeding disorders: these include difficulties with drooling, eating, and swallowing.
Language disorders can be either receptive or expressive:
- Receptive disorders: difficulties understanding or processing language.
- Expressive disorders: difficulty putting words together, limited vocabulary, or inability to use language in a socially appropriate way.
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), often informally known as speech therapists, are professionals educated in the study of communication, its development, and its disorders. SLPs assess speech, language, cognitive-communication, and oral/feeding/swallowing skills to identify types of communication problems (articulation; fluency; voice; receptive and expressive language disorders, etc.) and the best way to treat them.
An evaluation by a certified speech-language pathologist can help determine if your child is having difficulties. Speech-language therapy is the treatment for most individuals with speech and/or language disorders.
In speech-language therapy, an SLP will work with individuals to overcome difficulties involved with a specific disorder.
Therapists use a variety of strategies, including:
- Language intervention activities: The SLP will interact with a child by playing and talking, using pictures, books, objects, or ongoing events to stimulate language development. The therapist may also model correct pronunciation and use repetition exercises to build speech and language skills.
- Articulation therapy: Articulation, or sound production, exercises involve having the therapist model correct sounds and syllables for a child, often during play activities. The level of play is age-appropriate and related to the child’s specific needs. The SLP will physically show the child how to make certain sounds, such as the “r” sound, and may demonstrate how to move the tongue to produce specific sounds.
- Oral-motor/feeding and swallowing therapy: The SLP will use a variety of oral exercises — including facial massage and various tongue, lip, and jaw exercises — to strengthen the muscles of the mouth. The SLP also may work with different food textures and temperatures to increase a child’s oral awareness during eating and swallowing.
When Is Therapy Needed?
Individuals might need speech-language therapy for a variety of reasons, including:
- hearing impairments
- cognitive (intellectual, thinking) or other developmental delays
- weak oral muscles
- excessive drooling
- chronic hoarseness
- birth defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate
- motor planning problems
- respiratory problems (breathing disorders)
- feeding and swallowing disorders
- traumatic brain injury
Therapy should begin as soon as possible. Children enrolled in therapy early (before they’re 5 years old) tend to have better outcomes than those who begin therapy later.