A speech disorder causes problems with pronunciation of sounds while a language disorder refers to challenges understanding or stringing words together to communicate an idea. When your child is diagnosed with a speech or language disorder, he or she will begin treatment with a specialist in speech-language pathology, or a speech therapist (SLPs). These professionals are educated in human communications, development of communication, and disorders of speech and language. Speech language pathologists are able to perform assessments in language, speech, cognitive-communication, and any difficulties with feeding or swallowing. These assessments, in turn, can identify types of communication problems and how best to treat them. It is important that if you suspect your child has a problem with speech or language that he or she is evaluated carefully by a speech-language pathologist as soon as possible. The earlier the intervention, the more problems can be prevented.
What Are The Types of Speech Disorders?
There is an array of speech disorders related to a number of different diagnoses, and each speech disorder will require a different approach to treatment. Common speech disorders include the following:
Articulation (speech sound) disorders: These disorders encompass children who have challenges producing sounds in syllables or saying words so incorrectly that a listener cannot understand what is being said. As a result, a child may use an easier sound in place of a harder one, omit sounds, or distort sounds. Sometimes, children may have challenges combining movements of speech in a sequence, such as those required by words and sentences. Signs of articulation disorders by age:
- 8-9 months: Does not engage in repetitive babble
- 18 months: Uses mostly vowels or only a few consonants
- 3 years: Leaves out consonants or has unclear speech
- 4 years: Uses distorted, hard-to-understand speech
- 6 years: Cannot produce certain sounds of speech
Fluency Disorders (stuttering): Fluency disorders involve abnormal disruptions in speech flow. These may include involuntary repetitions, hesitations, prolongations, blocks, or disruptions during speech. A child may have tension during speech or abnormal movements like forceful eye blinking or jerking. Older children may refuse to talk to strangers or may be embarrassed to speak in front of others due to fears of stuttering.
Resonance or vocal disorders: These disorders include problems with pitch, volume, and quality of the voice to a point that it may distract listeners from what’s being said. Resonance or voice disorders may cause discomfort and pain when a child is speaking.
Feeding and swallowing disorder: This speech disorder encompasses problems children have with eating and swallowing. Children who have a feeding or swallowing disorder may have difficulty swallowing liquids or solids, sucking or drinking from a cup, difficulty taking food from a spoon, or chewing foods. These children may avoid certain types and textures of foods and may choke, gag, or cough at meal times. Children with dysphagia may benefit greatly from working with a speech therapist to reduce the risk of malnutrition, aspiration, and choking.
What are Language Disorders?
There are two primary types of language disorders that can both affect a child’s ability to interact socially with others and learn. Symptoms of language disorders by age group can include:
- 4 months: Poor eye contact and inattentive to others speaking
- 6-8 months: Doesn’t use gestures
- 12 months: Difficulties understanding speech or following one-step directions
- 16-18 months: Uses no words or has extremely limited vocabulary
- 24-26 months: Does not combine words to form short sentences
- 3 years: Echoes words or phrases or has many grammatical errors in sentences
- 3-4 years: Cannot retell stories or discuss past events
- 6 years: Challenges paying attention, memorization of facts, learning, or reading
Expressive disorders: These disorders cause challenges with putting words together, limited vocabulary, or an inability to use language in an appropriate way.
Receptive disorders: Involve challenges understanding or processing language.
When Is Speech Therapy Needed?
There are a wide variety of reasons why kids may need speech-language therapy. Speech therapy should begin as early as possible as children enrolled in therapy before the age of 5 often have better outcomes than older children. However, that’s not to say that older children cannot progress in therapy— simply that older children have established patterns of speech that need to be changed. Some of the more common reasons that a child may need speech therapy can include:
- Birth defects, such as cleft lip or palate
- Breathing disorders and respiratory problems
- Chronic hoarseness
- Cognitive or developmental delays
- Excessive drooling
- Feeding and swallowing disorders
- Hearing impairments
- Motor problems
- Traumatic brain injury
- Weak and slack oral muscles
Approaches to Treatment of Speech-Language Disorders:
When your child enters speech-language therapy, his or her SLP will work with your child in a variety of settings: one-on-one, small groups, or in a classroom to help your child learn to overcome difficulties of a specific disorder. Most SLPs will use a variety of strategies to help your child grow and develop speech and language skills. These therapeutic strategies may include:
Articulation therapy: Articulation is the production of sounds, and SLPs often will work with a child who has difficulties with articulation by modeling the correct sounds and syllables during play activities (which are specific to a child’s needs). The SLP will physically show your child how to produce challenging sounds, such as an “r.”
Language intervention activities: Your child’s SLP will engage your child during play and conversations, using objects, pictures, books, and ongoing events to stimulate the development of language. Your child’s SLP will likely model correct pronunciation and use repetition to help build language and speech skills.
Oral-motor/feeding and swallowing therapy: Our SLP will use a number of oral exercises, like strengthening facial muscles through blowing up balloons, facial massage, and other tongue, lip, and jaw exercises. Your child’s SLP may also work with a variety of textures of foods and temperatures during eating and swallowing.