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
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 shared thought.
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
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.
Berkowitz, S. (1994). The cleft palate story: A primer for parents
of children with cleft lip and palate. Chicago, IL: Quintessence.
Cleft Palate Foundation. (1997). For parents of newborn babies with
cleft lip/cleft palate. Chapel Hill, NC: Author. (Telephone: 1-800-242-5338.
Also available online at: www.cleft.com/cpf/cpffrm.html)
Eisenson, J. (1997). Is my child's speech normal? (2nd ed.). Austin
TX: Pro-Ed. (Telephone: 1-800-897-3202.)
Hamaguchi, P. M. (1995). Childhood speech, language, & listening
problems: What every parent should know. New York, NY: John Wiley
& Sons, Inc. (Telephone: 1-800-225-5945.)
for Technology Access
2175 E. Francisco Boulevard,
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 455-4575; (800) 455-7970
Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
10801 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
301-897-5700 (Voice or TT)
104 South Estes Drive, Suite 204
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Disabilities Association of America (LDA)
4156 Library Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15234
412-341-1515; 412-341-8077; (888) 300-6710
230 West Monroe Street, Suite 1800
Chicago, IL 60606
800-221-6827 (For information about services for children and
Research and Development Center
University of Wisconsin - Madison
S-151 Waisman Center
1500 Highland Avenue
Madison, WI 53705-2280
608-262-6966; 608-263-5408 (TTY)
Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A., Inc.
1733 Sixteenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009-3199
for Children with Communication Disorders
c/o Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
1110 N. Glebe Road, Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201-5704
with permission by:
National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013
Update January 2001
This fact sheet is made possible through Cooperative Agreement #H326N980002
between the Academy for Educational Development and the Office of
Special Education Programs. The contents of this publication do
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