1. What are speech language disorders?
A person experiences a communication disorder when his or her ability to receive, process, or send information is impaired. Speech and language disorders range from mild to severe and can affect people of all ages. People may have difficulty producing speech sounds clearly, understanding or producing language (includes reading and writing), using voice properly, or speaking with a normal rhythm. Speech and language processes are summarized as follows:
• Articulation-the process in which sounds, syllables, and words are formed with the tongue, jaw, teeth, lips, and palate using the airflow from the lungs.
• Language-the code and rules used to communicate ideas and express wants and needs. Language includes vocabulary, correct word order in sentences, meaningful word use in the context of the sentence and the social setting, following directions, and some gesture systems, such as sign language. Receptive language includes the understanding of the spoken and written words (listening and reading). Expressive language includes the production of spoken and written words (talking and writing).
• Voice-the process by which the vocal cords vibrate as air flows through them from the lungs (phonation). The vibrations resonate through the pharynx and the oral and nasal cavities to give the voice its quality (resonation). Aspects of voice include loudness, quality (clear, hoarse, weak, breathy, strident), and resonance.
• Fluency-the smooth rhythm and flow of speech. Fluency involves the rate, stress, loudness, and inflection of the pattern of speech. One type of fluency problem is stuttering.
2. What causes communication disorders?
When one or more of the speech and language processes are disrupted, a communication disorder may result. Often the cause of a speech and language disorder cannot be determined. Brain injury or disease, hearing loss, neurological disorders, mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, drug abuse, vocal abuse, or oral-facial malformations such as cleft palate may cause some disorders. Some delays in speech and language may be due to environmental factors, such as neglect or abuse, lack of stimulation, and poor speech-language modeling.
3. How common are speech and language disorders?
It is estimated that 1 of every 10 Americans is affected by communication disorders, including speech, language and hearing. An estimated 2% of all newborns each year have a disabling condition, and many of these children will have speech or language delays and disorders that may have a major impact on their personal, academic or social life. Approximately 1 in 4 students in the special education programs in the public schools has been identified as having a speech or language problem.
4. Why is early identification important?
The first years of life are critical to the child's learning of speech and language skills. A baby understands much about language before uttering his or her first word. Everything a child hears, sees, smells, tastes, and touches contributes to his or her expanding knowledge of the environment. This knowledge is the basis for development of communication, speech, and language skills. A child learns language by listening to others' language and speech and then practicing what he or she hears. Early identification, evaluation, and treatment for children under the age of 3 increase their chances for successful communication skills. Early identification is particularly important for those children who have a disability or who are at risk for having a delay in speech, language, or hearing. Children from neonatal intensive care units or with diagnosed medical conditions, such as genetic defects, cerebral palsy, chronic ear infections, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Down syndrome, are at a higher risk for delays. Children who do not have any high-risk factors but whose speech or language does not approximate that of other children the same age should be evaluated.
5. What is involved in a speech and language evaluation?
An evaluation by a speech-language pathologist includes careful observation and measurement of a child's speech and language abilities. The tasks may be formal or informal and may include standardized tests; reports from parents, physicians, or teachers; direct observation of the child's behavior; and analysis of a spontaneous speech sample. The evaluation process may require an ongoing effort over several sessions to obtain enough information to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Other professionals such as audiologists, otolaryngologists, neurologists, psychologists, nurses, pediatricians, and social workers may assist with the evaluation process because speech and language disorders can be part of an ongoing social or medical condition with overlapping treatments.
6. What is speech-language treatment?
Services from a speech-language pathologist involve an organized plan of speech or language learning delivered in individual or group sessions. Therapy is based on a carefully designed practice sequence. A series of activities is set up to meet certain goals, which usually are accomplished over time. Parents receive counseling on methods to stimulate maximum speech and language skills which carry over to the child's everyday setting.
7. When should parents seek a professional evaluation?
Parents should seek a speech and language evaluation when they are worried about their child's development, when they have a child at risk, or when their child does not demonstrate the communication skills that children the same age display. No child is too young to be evaluated. Early treatment is critical if there is a problem. If there is no problem, the parents can be reassured that their child is developing within normal limits. Parents can always benefit by receiving information about normal development and suggestions for encouraging the child's speech and language skills.
8. Who can help persons with communication disorders?
A speech-language pathologist is a professional trained at the master's or doctoral level to evaluate and help the child with speech or language disorders. Speech-language pathologists provide services in hospitals, schools, colleges and universities, private practices and other settings. Certified speech-language pathologists must have a master's degree and a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). Most states require licensure.
An audiologist is a professional trained at the master's or doctoral level to evaluate and rehabilitate hearing loss. Audiologists provide services in hospitals, schools, colleges and universities, private practices and other settings. Certification requires a master's degree and a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A) from ASHA. Most states require licensure.
Contact ASHA for resources and referrals.
Questions 1-8 were taken from: Brooks, M. and Hartung, D. Speech and Language Handouts Second Edition. Resource Guide, p. 3-6.
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