Understanding Speech and Language
Disorders: An Ultimate Guide for Parents
Speech and language disorders.
Odds are, you heard these terms from your family doctor after bringing up your childÊ¼s communication troubles. Or perhaps youÊ¼ve done some research on your own and found these terms online. Whichever the case might be, one thing is clear. With dozens upon dozens of different types, speech and language disorders are tricky for all parents.
In fact, itÊ¼s not rare to hear even a pediatrician use these terms interchangeably. But in reality, these are two distinct categories of communication problems â€” each with its own set of symptoms, implications, and outcomes.
By knowing about the different types of speech and language disorders, their symptoms, causes, and treatments, youÊ¼ll know exactly what you need to help your child.
This guide will cover all that and a whole lot more. HereÊ¼s a quick overview of everything youÊ¼ll learn today:
Don't have time to read the while
guide right now?
No worries. Let us send you a copy so you can read it when it's convenient for you. Just let us know where to send it (takes 5 seconds):
Chapter 1: The Basics
Knowing these concepts will help you get the most out of this guide.
The Difference Between Speech and Language
Before we get into the specifics of all the different types of speech and language disorders, letÊ¼s clear up the difference between speech and language first.
Speech refers to the actual sounds we produce to communicate our thoughts and ideas. This includes the way we pronounce words, stress important phrases, raise and lower our pitch, and amplify the power of our voice using our breath.
Examples of speech difficulties include mispronouncing certain words, stuttering between phrases, speaking with a lisp, and having a rough or nasal voice.
Language on the other hand, refers to our ability to communicate thoughts and ideas. This includes knowing how to say what we want to say and understanding what others are saying to us.
Examples of language difficulties include using short and grammatically inaccurate sentences, failing to follow directions, labeling objects incorrectly, and lagging in conversations.
HereÊ¼s an easy way to remember the difference. Language is our ability to communicate thoughts and ideas using words. Whereas speech is our ability to turn those words into sounds.
The Difference Between a Delay and a Disorder
If youÊ¼ve already talked to your childÊ¼s pediatrician, odds are youÊ¼ve heard the term delay or disorder, or maybe both. Some medical professionals use these terms interchangeably, but strictly speaking, these terms signify different problems.
A delay is when a child doesnÊ¼t hit developmental milestones as expected for their age. For instance, itÊ¼s common for preschoolers to struggle with the /r/ sound and replace it with a /w/. By the time they enter kindergarten, most kids overcome that challenge. But a child with a speech delay may hold on to that mistake for a much longer time.
A disorder, on the other hand, is when a child doesnÊ¼t follow the order of developmental milestones. LetÊ¼s look at an example. When most toddlers start speaking, they do so one word at a time like â€œdadaâ€. But children with a disorder jump straight to speaking in full but incorrect sentences.
Knowing this distinction is important as it will help you understand exactly whatÊ¼s going on with your child. Speech delays go away on their own. Whereas speech disorders typically require expert intervention as soon as possible.
The Importance of Early Intervention
The importance of early intervention cannot be overstated. ThatÊ¼s because unlike speech delays, there are many disorders that get worse over time if left untreated.
A common mistake many parents make is to chalk their childÊ¼s communication troubles up to a delay. But the only way to know whether your child is a late talker or has a serious condition is to get them diagnosed by a specialized professional.
If your child does have a speech or language disorder, theyÊ¼ll get the professional help they need. But even if itÊ¼s just a case of speech delay, the professional can help your child overcome it much faster with specialized exercises and therapy.
Chapter 2: Speech Disorder
WeÊ¼ll talk about the three main types of speech disorders first. Then weÊ¼ll look into the symptoms, causes, and other important details for four specific speech disorders.
The Three Types of Speech Disorders
Speech disorders manifest differently from child to child. But at the core, there are three main types:
- 1Articulation disorders: Errors in pronunciation. For instance, saying â€œwabbitâ€ instead of â€œrabbitâ€ or â€œgassâ€ instead of â€œgrassâ€. So if your child mispronounces a lot of words regularly, that may be a sign of an underlying articulation disorder
- 2Fluency disorders: Frequent interruptions in the flow of speaking. So if your child often stutters, clutters, or shows any other signs of having trouble expressing himself, a fluency disorder is the likely culprit.
- 3Voice disorders: Frequent inappropriate changes in voice quality, pitch, or loudness. So if your child often speaks too loudly, quietly, or with an inappropriate pitch, they may have a voice disorder.
Four Common Speech Disorders
HereÊ¼s a not-so-fun fact for any parent. There are nearly fifty speech disorders out there, with each having its own set of causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Understanding all of them is best left to the professionals. As a parent, a basic understanding of the most common speech disorders is all you need.
So letÊ¼s look at the four common speed disorders below.
Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder in which the muscles we need to produce speech are damaged, paralyzed, or weakened to an extent they canÊ¼t function properly
Typically, children with dysarthria lose control of their tongue, larynx, vocal cords, and other surrounding muscles. This makes it difficult for them to pronounce words correctly.
As a result, they struggle to:
If that sounds like your child, donÊ¼t get worried. A combination of speech therapy and home exercises is all a child with dysarthria needs to see significant improvement in daily performance.
As far as the causes are concerned, this condition is typically caused by a stroke, head injury, or brain disease. However, there are some rare cases where the culprit could be something else entirely.
To see if your child may have this disorder, take a look at the following list of dysarthria signs:
If your child struggles with some of those symptoms on a frequent basis, you should talk to your pediatrician about a professional diagnosis.
However, if youÊ¼ve noticed these symptoms only recently, you should visit a doctor right away as the abrupt surfacing of these symptoms could be a sign of a serious condition or injury.
2. Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder
An orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD) is another speech disorder where the lip, jaw, or tongue takes an abnormal position during rest, swallowing or speech.
HereÊ¼s a list of the most common signs of OMD:
OMD can impact a childÊ¼s life in many ways, including:
OMD is typically caused by two factors. One, an upper airway obstruction. Two, a prolonged adverse habit like thumb or finger sucking.
Those are the two most common causes out of more than a dozen possibilities. So if your child doesnÊ¼t have either of those problems, donÊ¼t rule out OMD just yet and get your child evaluated by a professional.
3. Childhood Apraxia of Speech
Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder that makes it difficult for children to say what they want to say correctly and consistently.
Unlike most speech disorders, CAS isnÊ¼t caused by the speech muscles. Instead, itÊ¼s caused due to the brainÊ¼s inability to coordinate speech movements smoothly.
Children with CAS face many difficulties in life, such as:
HereÊ¼s a list of the most common signs of CAS:
Since CAS has a wide range of causes, from a simple head injury to a complex brain infection, itÊ¼s harder to diagnose than any other speech disorder.
So even if your child doesnÊ¼t show many of the signs we just listed, itÊ¼s best to get a professional diagnosis. An SLP can help confirm whether your child has CAS or a combination of other disorders.
A lisp is a condition that leads to the mispronunciation of words. There are several types of lisps, and the most common one is when a child makes a /th/ sound when trying to make an /s/ sound.
Children usually develop a lisp from a habit of pushing their tongue out when making certain sounds instead of placing it behind their top teeth.
As harmless and adorable as your childÊ¼s lisp seems, beyond a certain age, it can affect their ability to:
ThatÊ¼s why addressing a lisp is more important than many parents realize. Since there are four different lisps and each has its own signs, letÊ¼s do a quick rundown of all four:
- 1A palatal lisp is when a child keeps his tongue in contact with the soft palate when making the /s/ or /z/ sound. The result is an /h/ sound followed by an /r/ instead of the intended /s/ or /z/.
- 2A lateral lisp is when air travels out of either side of the tongue. Children with a lateral lisp produce /s/ and /z/ sounds that sound slushy.
- 3A dentalized lisp is when your childÊ¼s tongue makes contact with his teeth while producing the /s/
and /z/ sounds. As a result, they end up producing a /th/ sound instead.
- 4An interdental lisp, more commonly known as a frontal lisp, is when the tongue pushes forward
through the teeth, creating a /th/ sound instead of an /s/ or /z/ sound.
Chapter 3: Language Disorder
WeÊ¼ll talk about the two types of language disorders, along with the third type many publications forget to mention. Then weÊ¼ll do a deep dive into the symptoms, causes, and other important details for four specific language disorders.
The Three Types of Language Disorders
While there are many different language disorders, all of them fall under one of the following three types:
Four Common Language Disorders
There are language disorders like dyslexia that everyoneÊ¼s heard of. Then there are language disorders like paralexia that most parents have no clue what they are.
The good news is that all language disorders arenÊ¼t created equal. Some are more prevalent than others. So letÊ¼s talk about the four language disorders youÊ¼re most likely to find.
Aphasia is an impairment of language that affects a personÊ¼s ability to read, write, and comprehend or produce speech. In other words, it robs you of the ability to communicate properly.
ItÊ¼s one of those rare language disorders with only one known cause: brain injury.
ThatÊ¼s why it typically occurs right after a stroke or head injury. But a lack of head impact doesnÊ¼t rule out aphasia. Progressive diseases or a slow-growing brain tumor can also result in brain trauma, ultimately triggering the onset of aphasia.
Unfortunately, aphasia is proven to have the biggest negative impact on the quality of life than any other condition, including cancer and AlzheimerÊ¼s disease.
What makes aphasia one of the worst disorders in the world is its impact on childrenÊ¼s ability to engage with their family, friends, doctors, and the wider community.
But hereÊ¼s the good news. Aphasia is a treatable condition today. Depending on the type and severity, the adverse effects of this disorder can be greatly relieved in as little as a few months sometimes.
Since there are over a dozen varieties of aphasia, letÊ¼s look at the three most common ones:
- 1Global aphasia is the most severe type of aphasia. Patients can only produce a few recognizable words and understand little or even no spoken language.
- 2BrocaÊ¼s aphasia is the most common type of non-fluent aphasia. Patients can only speak in short sentences, made up of fewer than four words
- 3WernickeÊ¼s aphasia is the most common type of fluent aphasia. Patients can speak clearly but have difficulty comprehending others.
Dyslexia is a language disorder that affects areas of the brain that process language. ItÊ¼s usually caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Children with dyslexia canÊ¼t read as well as their neurotypical peers because their brain has trouble identifying speech sounds and then relating them to letters and words.
Although the disorder doesnÊ¼t affect intelligence, it makes academic performance significantly more challenging.
ThatÊ¼s why educational institutes often recommend dyslexic children to enroll in specialized education programs, which are built to meet their specific needs.
Although there is no cure for dyslexia, itÊ¼s very manageable with the right care.
Early assessment and intervention play a key role in ensuring that dyslexia has a minimal effect on your childÊ¼s life. If your child doesnÊ¼t go to school yet, you should check for the following signs:
If your child is going to school already, look for these signs instead:
3. Selective Mutism
While selective mutism technically isnÊ¼t a language disorder, most experts still consider it a disorder of communication. This disorder is characterized by the inability to speak and communicate in some social settings.
What it means is that children with selective mutism can only speak and communicate in settings where they feel secure, relaxed, and comfortable.
ThatÊ¼s why over 90% of them also have social anxiety or social phobia, which makes them:
As far as the cause is concerned, there are three known causes of selective mutism:
- 1Genetic components
- 2Anxiety disorders, such as social phobia, separation anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder
- 3Environmental factors, such as reduced opportunities for social contact, observing anxious behaviors, or reinforcing avoidance behaviors
All that being said, the good news about selective mutism is that itÊ¼s easily treatable with the right care.
Kids respond best to behavioral therapy that focuses on helping them learn to speak in new settings, during new activities, and with new people.
Dyslalia is a common language disorder among kindergarten-aged children. It makes them distort, substitute, omit, replace, or reverse certain sounds.
The disorder has four types that inhibit the pronunciation of certain sounds to different extents.
- 1Simple: inability to pronounce one specific sound
- 2Multiple: inability to pronounce over one specific sound
- 3Hottentotism: inability to speak fluently due to a stammer
- 4Related: inability to pronounce sounds that require the same articulation
In the vast majority of cases, dyslalia is triggered by one of the following three causes:
- 1Hearing problems
- 2Learning disabilities
- 3Structural abnormalities of the speech organs
You can find out whether your kindergartener has this disorder by checking how many phonemes he can pronounce correctly. If he has trouble with multiple phonemes, thatÊ¼s the key sign of dyslalia.
Chapter 4: Treatment
This is where weÊ¼ll cover everything you need to set your child up for the best results. Choosing the right type of health professional and then preparing for the perfect first visit. What a specialist will do for your child. And lastly, the profound difference you can make in your childÊ¼s treatment â€” and how to best make it.
Getting Started with Treatment
Speech therapy is the most effective treatment for speech and language disorders out there, with countless studies and experts backing it. So long as your child has a speech or language disorder, the treatment will almost always boil down to speech therapy sessions and at-home exercises.
For most families, treatment for speech and language disorders starts with a consultation with the family doctor. This typically involves a full physical exam to rule out any hearing or other sensory impairments as the primary cause.
Unfortunately, many parents make a mistake at this point by relying on the pediatrician to diagnose their childÊ¼s communication troubles.
As you know by now, there are too many types of speech and language disorders, with dozens of specific disorders under each category. Many of those conditions are extremely hard to diagnose, as they require meticulous consideration of countless factors.
ThatÊ¼s why the importance of having a specialist diagnose your child cannot be stressed enough. And speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are exactly the professionals you need.
An SLP is a medical professional that specializes in diagnosing and treating all the different speech and language disorders. These experts also specialize in social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders.
HereÊ¼s what that means for your little one. Whether your childÊ¼s communication problems result from speech and language disorders, swallowing troubles, social- or cognitive-communication challenges â€” an SLP will know how to pinpoint the cause and get the best results.
While treatment for any disorder is a collaborative effort between all the medical professionals in your childÊ¼s life, ranging from the family pediatrician and school counselor to physiological psychologists and neurologists, at the core of it all is going to be your childÊ¼s SLP.
Preparing for Your First Visit to an SLP
Since you know your child better than anyone else, the SLP will rely on you to provide as many details as possible.
The information you provide will be vital to shaping the SLPÊ¼s understanding of your childÊ¼s communication and any factors which may be influencing their speech development.
So itÊ¼s a good idea to prepare answers regarding your childÊ¼s medical history, developmental milestones, communication concerns, and communication strengths.
You should also note down your childÊ¼s medical history, including:
Print a copy of those notes and take it along with you to the SLP. Not only will the pathologist appreciate your proactive involvement, but they will be in a much better position to give your child the help he needs.
What an SLP Will Do for Your Child
An SLP will play many key roles in your childÊ¼s treatment. But the bulk of it can be divided into two categories: diagnosis and treatment.
As every child has different needs, the SLP will create a specific treatment plan along with a speech therapy schedule to overcome all their language and speech issues.
To do that, the SLP will evaluate your childÊ¼s abilities in the first meeting, which will consist of two main parts: a parent interview and testing.
During both parts, you will be asked a couple of questions for which you should prepare answers before arriving (refer to the previous section for details).
LetÊ¼s look at what the two parts of the diagnosis process entail.
Diagnosis Part 1: The Parent Interview
The SLP will start the session by asking some basic questions regarding your childÊ¼s developmental milestones, communication concerns, and communication strengths.
After that, they will ask for a comprehensive medical history to get a better understanding of the situation.
ThatÊ¼s pretty much what the parent interview is about. Once this part is done, the SLP will move on to the actual evaluation of your childÊ¼s current condition.
Diagnosis Part 2: Testing
In the second part of the evaluation, there will be two types of testing: direct and indirect.
Indirect testing often feels more like an informal conversation, observation, or playtime, rather than an evaluation. But it actually is an important part of diagnosis because the SLP uses this time to learn more about how your child communicates.
Direct testing, on the other hand, is more structured and you can clearly tell that your child is being evaluated. It involves some basic communication exercises, like:
The rule of thumb for direct testing is that the SLP continues until the child answers multiple questions incorrectly in a row. So donÊ¼t worry if your child isnÊ¼t getting every question right.
In fact, children often even have to answer questions that are actually intended for older children before the SLP can stop testing.
Your role during direct testing is to sit back, relax, and observe quietly until asked to participate.
Typically, the SLP only asks you to participate when they cannot get a particular response from your kid. If that happens, donÊ¼t reword the question â€” say it exactly as the pathologist did.
Most questions in direct testing are required to be asked in a specific way, and any rewording of a question can negate the accuracy of the test.
Once your kid gets multiple answers incorrectly in a row, the SLP will have all the information they need to start the actual treatment for your little one.
The Treatment Begins
The treatment for speech and language disorders consists of routine speech therapy sessions at the SLPÊ¼s office and daily activities at home.
DonÊ¼t worry if youÊ¼re not sure how often to go for therapy or which activities to perform at home. The SLP will take all the specific needs and targets of your child into consideration to create a custom speech therapy plan that is most conducive to your childÊ¼s speech and language development.
That plan will explain all the important aspects of how your child will be treated, including:
What You Can Do to Help Your Child
As a parent, youÊ¼re a vital part of your childÊ¼s treatment. No one knows your child better than you do, and that puts you in an important position to help medical professions give your child the help he needs.
So taking your child to an SLP for evaluation and providing as many details as you can is the first thing you can do. By following the steps outlined in an earlier section, youÊ¼ll be more prepared for the first visit than the vast majority of parents out there.
The next thing you can do is to help your child do speech therapy activities at home. The SLP will prepare a custom exercise plan to get the best results for your childÊ¼s specific condition. But the results of the at-home exercise plans depend entirely on the amount and quality of practice your child does. And thatÊ¼s your opportunity for making a significant improvement in your childÊ¼s results.
Another important area is monitoring your childÊ¼s symptoms and progress. If your child makes improvements in a certain area or falls behind in another, you should bring that up with the SLP so they know whatÊ¼s going on.
Speaking of which, youÊ¼re at the center of the communication loop for all health professionals in your childÊ¼s life.
It is likely that your child will receive services from multiple providers. For instance, kids with speech and language difficulties often get frustrated and require the services of a physiological psychologist. ItÊ¼s also common for kids to get speech therapy from both a public and private SLP.
By connecting and keeping all the professionals in the loop, you can make a profound difference in your childÊ¼s treatment.
In fact, studies have shown time after time that parental involvement is directly correlated with faster and longer-lasting speech therapy results.
So thereÊ¼s a lot you can do to help your child. And by reading this guide, youÊ¼ve already taken a huge step forward.
Children with speech and language disorders, in most cases, catch up to their peers with time. And your child is set up for even better results â€” all thanks to your love and support.
Chapter 5: Frequently Asked Questions
By this point, youÊ¼ll know more about speech and language disorders than the vast majority of parents out there. But weÊ¼ll take things one step further by answering some of the most common and confusing questions asked by parents in your exact situation.
1. Are speech and language disorders common?
Yes, speech and language disorders are quite common. In fact, theyÊ¼re more common than most people think, as evidenced by the results of many studies conducted in the United States:
The same study concludes that one in every twelve people in the United States (7.7% of the entire U.S population) suffer from a speech or language disorder.
2. How does speech therapy work for deaf people?
Speech therapy for people with hearing impairments is not just important, but necessary. Without it, they canÊ¼t learn how to read lips and form words correctly.
A speech therapist will help your child learn lip-reading by:
If your child has a learning disability along with a hearing impairment, the goal of speech therapy will remain the same. However, the approach will change as the therapist will:
3. How can I differentiate autism from speech delay?
Since speech delay can be a symptom of autism, most people find it hard to tell one from the other. However, there is a simple way to do so.
The key difference between the two is that children with autism cannot interact with other people in a verbal or non-verbal (smile, mimic, or visual contact) manner.
Children with a speech delay, on the other hand, can communicate through non-verbal behavior. Plus, they can also establish relationships and show interest in other people.
Furthermore, a speech delay only affects the production of speech, but the ability to understand speech remains untouched. Whereas autism creates equal difficulties in producing and understanding speech.
4. Can speech or language disorders develop in late teens or early 20s?
Yes, speech and language disorder can develop in late teens, early 20s, and in fact at any point in life.
However, disorders that develop late are always caused by external factors. Things like drug abuse, hearing loss, stroke, or any injury that damages parts of the brain responsible for speech or language.
5. Does speech therapy work for toddlers?
Yes, speech therapy can start with children as young as 3 years old. That being said, you shouldnÊ¼t take your toddler to therapy unless he shows any of the following milestone gaps:
6. How do I know if my child needs speech therapy?
Since there are over fifty speech and language disorders, each with its own signs and symptoms, thereÊ¼s no telltale sign that shows your child has an impairment.
ThatÊ¼s why the only way to know whether your child needs speech therapy is by getting them evaluated by an SLP to see if thereÊ¼s a developmental issue.
Despite what well-meaning friends and family members might say, communication problems are not always as simple as a â€œlate talkerâ€ and could be the signs of a serious condition.
A diagnosis is always a win for the child and the family. If the problem turns out to be a serious disorder, your child can get professional help immediately. But even if thatÊ¼s not the case, speech therapy can greatly accelerate your childÊ¼s speech and language development.
7. Should I attend my childÊ¼s speech therapy session?
Yes, your attendance plays a key role in the success of your childÊ¼s treatment.
Typically, the participation of parents during therapy sessions includes in-room therapy participation, out of room observation, and completion of home activities.
8. How long does my child need to be in therapy?
There is no set answer to this question as every child is different. But studies conducted by ASHA point to the following three factors as having the biggest impact on the results of speech therapy:
- 1Intensity: the length of treatment sessions
- 2Frequency: the number of treatment sessions per week
- 3Duration: the number of months for which therapy lasts
As a result, more exposure to speech therapy means a better outcome for your child. The key is to ensure that your child meets all the requirements to lead a fulfilling life, both socially and academically.
If you feel that your child is ready to end speech therapy, but your SLP disagrees, you should get a second opinion from another specialist before making your final decision.
9. WhatÊ¼s the difference between a public school and private speech therapy?
While free speech therapy at schools is a great initiative, it is simply not comparable to having a private specialist on your side.
Most schools offer speech therapy sessions in groups for 15 to 60 minutes per week under a strict schedule. Not only will your child get limited attention in a group, but less than 60 minutes of speech therapy is not enough for most communication problems.
Of course, none of that matters if your child doesnÊ¼t meet the requirements for public speech therapy. What it means is that the school-based SLP must be satisfied that your child has a disorder, and the severity is bad enough for it to affect your childÊ¼s academic performance.
Even if your child meets those requirements, the school may still deny your application based on other factors. Things like budget limitations and the number of kids who have applied for support.
Working with a private SLP is the exact opposite. Your child gets undivided attention from the specialist in a one-on-one setting for several sessions per week. Plus, you get a lot more flexibility in scheduling.
In short, private speech therapy is where your child will make the most progress. ThereÊ¼s no way around it. But if your child qualifies for school therapy, be sure to take advantage of both resources.
10. How to deal with advice clashes between school and private SLP?
If your child is getting help from both a school and private SLP, then itÊ¼s likely that there will be a clash of advice at some point.
Generally speaking, the SLPs at schools aim to help your child reach a point where his communication limitations wonÊ¼t affect academic performance too much. But as soon as that point is reached, your child will become ineligible for free services â€” even if your child is lagging in other areas of life.
Private SLPs are the opposite. These specialists focus on bringing your child up to the same level as hispeers in all areas of life, including academic and social skills.
With everything else being equal, you should generally give preference to the advice of a private SLP over a public school one.
If you have any further questions or concerns about the speech and language abilities of your child, get in touch with us today.
Our team of experts will be delighted to answer all your questions, perform a comprehensive diagnosis, and then prepare and execute the perfect treatment plan for your child.