What Are Speech and Language Disorders?

  • Children who experience difficulties pronouncing speech sounds correctly or fluently, or have problems with their voices, are deemed to have a speech disorder. Those who have problems understanding others or sharing thoughts, ideas and feelings are deemed to have a language disorder.
  • Often disorders may occur in conjunction with other learning disabilities such as ADHD, Autism and Dyslexia or in conjuction with wider medical issues such as a href="http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Head-injury-severe-/Pages/Introduction.aspx">Brain Injuries or Cleft Lip and Palate.
  • Some of the most common speech disorders are Stammering and Dysathria.
    • Stammering -Stammering is characterised by the repetition of sounds or syllables, the prolonging of sounds and pausing or 'blocking', when words get stuck or don't come out at all. Stammering may develop as a child is first learning to speak or later in life as a result of head injury, stroke, neurological disease or medication. It is very common among young children, around one in twenty will experience a phase of non-fluent speech.
    • Dysathria - Dysathria is a difficulty speaking caused by problems controlling the muscles used in speech. Sufferers may have slurred, nasal sounding or breathy speech, a strained or horse voice, excessively loud or quiet speech, problems speaking in a regular rhythm, "gurgled" or monotone speech or difficulty with tongue and lip movements. A person with dysathria may be difficult to understand. Dysathria does not affect intelligence or understanding but sufferers may also have problems in these areas.
  • One of the most common language disorders to affect school children is selective mutism.
    • Selective Mutism - Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder which prevents children speaking in certain situations, despite being able to talk at other times. Children are not choosing to remain silent but are unable to speak, feeling frozen. SM is believed to be a phobia of talking. It affects around 1in 150 children and usually occurs in early childhood. It is usually associated with other anxieties or learning disabilities. Children with SM may seem nervous, socially awkward, clingy, excessively shy, serious, stubborn or frozen and expressionless. They may communicate using gestures or speak in an altered voice such as a whisper.

Getting Help:

  • If you have any concerns about your Child's speech and language development, seek advice from your GP. They can go on to refer you to Speech and Language Therapists where necessary.
  • For young children wth stammers, therapy is often highly successful, especially when treated as soon as possible.
  • Children with dysathria may also benefit from speech and language therapy but there is no guarantee of improvement in the patient's speech.
  • For Selective Mutism, parents should again attempt to diagnose the issue as early as possible, before it leads to social isolation or low self-esteem. Schools are increasingly being trained to recognise and support children with SM. If treated and handled properly by speech and language therapists, families and schools, most children will overcome SM.

Managing Speech and Language Disabilities:

  • As many speech and language disorders are associated with anxiety, parents can help to improve their child's communication by creating an environment in which the child feels more relaxed and confident about their use of language.
  • Parents are encouraged not to use pressure or bribes to improve a child's communication but to acknowledge that they have difficulty and let them know that they understand. Rather than praising children publicly for an achievement, which may embarrass them, praise can be given privately at home. Letting a child know that non-verbal communication, such as smiling and waving, is OK until they feel ready to speak may also help to put them at ease.
  • For children with physical speech disorders a child's confidence can be raised by turning down background noise when they are speaking, giving them long enough to respond, not interrupting or correcting their speech and admitting when you don't understand what they said. If this is the case you can ask them Yes/No questions to help clarify, for example "did you ask where I am going?".

All information from NHS Choices and The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.