Speech and Language Disorders

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1 Speech and Language Disorders Introduction Speech and language disorders can affect a person s ability to talk, understand, read, and write. Children may develop speech or language disorders due to conditions that affect brain development before, during, or after birth. Adults may develop speech or language disorders due to stroke, traumatic brain injury, or brain tumors. Many people with these disorders can benefit from treatment. This reference summary discusses speech and language disorders. It includes information about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of speech and language disorders. Definition Speech and language disorders can affect your ability to talk, understand, read, and write. There are several kinds of speech disorders. Similarly, there are many different kinds of language disorders. Speech and language are two separate things. Speech is the verbal means of communication. It has to do with the production of sounds. Language refers to the rules about the meaning of words, how words are made, and how words are put together. These rules are socially agreed upon. For example, even though the word fip is a nonsense word, an English speaker knows that the plural of fip is fips. Language also refers to the ability to use or understand spoken or written words. A person with a language disorder may have problems expressing his or her needs or ideas. He or she may also have difficulty understanding what others say. 1

2 Speech Disorders The symptoms of speech and language disorders will vary depending on the type of impairment. Not all of the symptoms associated with speech and language disorders are included here. The symptoms of speech disorders are grouped according to the parts of speech they affect. A person with a speech disorder may have difficulty with one or more of the following: Fluency Articulation Voice Fluency refers to the flow of speech. A person with a speech disorder may have their speech disrupted by sounds, syllables, and words that are repeated, prolonged, or avoided. Stuttering is an example of fluency impairment. Stuttering is a speech impairment in which a person continually and involuntarily repeats sounds, particularly consonants. The letters p and t are examples of consonants. Articulation refers to the way a person produces sounds. A person with a speech disorder may have trouble producing sounds correctly. For example, a person may have a lisp. People who speak with a lisp use "th" for the "s" sound. Voice refers to the sound a person produces. A person with a speech disorder may use a voice that is louder or softer than is considered normal. A speech disorder can also cause the voice to have a strange pitch. Some common symptoms of fluency impairment include: Adding extra sounds or words to sentences, like the word uh Rapid eye-blinking or head jerking while talking Repetition of sounds, words, or parts of words (stuttering) 2

3 Some common symptoms of articulation disorders include: Sounds are changed, or distorted, such as saying tup for cup Sounds are left off, added, changed, or substituted, such as saying boken for broken Speech errors, such as making a w sound for an r sound Some common symptoms of voice disorders include: A raspy or hoarse voice Pitch of the voice changes suddenly Voice is too loud or soft Language Disorders Language disorders are categorized as either receptive or expressive. A person with receptive language disorder has difficulty understanding language. A person with expressive language disorder has difficulty using language. Receptive language disorders affect a person s ability to understand what he or she hears. Some common symptoms include: Difficulty understanding what other people say Hard time following spoken directions Trouble organizing thoughts Expressive language disorders affect a person s ability to express himself or herself with words. Some common symptoms include: Difficulty putting words together to form sentences Leaving words out of sentences Trouble finding the right word when talking, which results in filler words, like uh Some people have symptoms of both receptive and expressive language disorders. Causes Often, the cause of speech and language disorders is unknown. There are, however, some conditions that are commonly associated with speech and language disorders. 3

4 For children and adults, speech disorders may be caused by: Cancer of the throat Cleft palate Conditions that damage the nerves, such as cerebral palsy Noncancerous growths on the vocal cords Tooth problems Children with a cleft palate are born with a split in the roof of their mouth. It is often treated with surgery. Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that can affect movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking. Language disorders in children may be caused by: Autism spectrum disorders Brain injury Damage to the spinal cord Hearing loss Learning disabilities Autism spectrum disorders are a group of brain disorders. These disorders cause problems with social interactions and communication. They also may cause repetitive behaviors and interests, as well as mental delays. Sometimes problems with speech and language are not caused by a language disorder. Some children experience delayed language. Delayed language means the child develops speech and language the same as other children, but later. Adults may develop language disorders due to stroke, traumatic brain injury, or brain tumors. Diagnosis Speech and language disorders are usually diagnosed by a speech-language pathologist. This healthcare professional is trained to test and treat individuals with voice, speech, and language disorders. 4

5 The speech-language pathologist considers a variety of factors, including: An analysis of the speech or language behaviors An evaluation of speech and language abilities The impact of speech and language abilities When the problem was first noticed and under what circumstances Several tests can help diagnose speech disorders. Your healthcare provider can tell you about the different tests used to screen for speech and language disorders. A healthcare provider may also request a hearing test. This test can determine whether hearing loss is responsible for problems with speech and language. Deafness, or complete hearing loss, is responsible for many speech and language problems. Treatment Sometimes mild forms of speech disorders disappear on their own. When they do not, speech and language therapy may be an effective treatment. Treating the underlying problem may help. For example, taking a nodule off the vocal cords may help some speech problems. Treatment for speech and language disorders is handled by a speech-language pathologist. This is a therapist who specializes in problems with communication. The speech-language pathologist can determine if treatment is needed. Speech and language therapy may help improve more severe speech and language problems. During speech therapy, the speechlanguage pathologist works with a patient to help him or her create certain sounds. Speech and language therapy often takes place several times a week for as many sessions as it takes to correct or improve a problem. Your healthcare provider can give you more information about speech and language therapy. He or she may refer you to a speech-language pathologist to learn more. 5

6 In some cases, psychological therapy may be recommended to treat speech and language disorders. This is especially true if a healthcare provider suspects that the disorder is related to a behavioral or emotional problem. People who cannot speak at all might benefit from using speech generating devices. These devices allow you to press letters or pictures and the devices produce speech for you. Summary Speech and language disorders can affect a person s ability to talk, understand, read, and write. The symptoms of speech and language disorders will vary depending on the type of impairment. These disorders can cause symptoms related to fluency, articulation, voice, and language. Children may develop speech or language disorders due to conditions that affect brain development before, during, or after birth. Adults may develop speech or language disorders due to stroke, traumatic brain injury, or brain tumors. There are many forms of treatment for speech and language disorders. Treating the underlying cause may help. Other treatments include speech and language therapy, psychological therapy, and speech generating devices. Many people with speech and language disorders can benefit from treatment. Your healthcare provider can provide you with more information. 6

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