Childhood Speech Disorders
Part 1: Understanding the Basics
Speech-language impairment has been called the “most common and least diagnosed disability of childhood,” affecting approximately one in every 12 children. 46 percent of children enrolled in early intervention programs have communication impairments, while 26 percent have developmental delays in multiple areas, usually including language skills (NIH). If not identified and treated early on, a child’s communication disorder can lead to behavioral, cognitive or emotional problems later in life.
Nobody expects a baby’s first words to be perfect. They’re going from gurgling to learning a sophisticated language in a couple of months. Bumps in the road are to be expected. Speech development errors are very common in English-speaking preschoolers. These errors usually resolve themselves naturally by the time the child reaches kindergarten. If the errors persist by the time the child is six, or if a younger infant or toddler is missing several milestones, it may be a sign they need extra help from a pediatrician or speech-language pathologist. before we can help them, we must understand the root of the problem.
What causes speech disorders?
Speech is more than simply knowing what sounds go with what letters. There are a lot of complex processes that go on in a person’s mind and body for them to be able to speak. First, he or she must hear the sounds correctly, both as someone else is saying them and from their own mouths. This is where phonological processing disorders spring from, including:
- Fronting: when a sound that should form in the back of the mouth forms in the front (e.g. saying “baf” for “bath” or “sue” for “shoe”).
- Backing: when a sound that should form in the front of the mouth forms in the back (e.g. saying “gog” for “dog”).
- Consonant deletion: skipping one or multiple consonants in the beginning, middle, or end of words (e.g. saying “seep” for “sleep” or “ouse” for “house”).
- Metathesis: switching the order of sounds in a word (e.g. saying “pasgetti” for “spaghetti” or “aks” for “ask”).
- Gliding: substituting “liquid” L and R sounds with W and Y (e.g. saying “wabbit” for “rabbit” or “yady” for “lady”).
- Syllable deletion: skipping “weak” syllables, commonly in the middle of longer words. (e.g. “bum-bee” for “bumblebee” or “te-phone” for “telephone”).
The good news about phonological processing disorders (PPDs) is that they are a mere matter of auditory perception. There is nothing physically or mentally stopping a person with a PPD from making the correct sounds. He or she must simply pay attention to which sounds are right and wrong, break his or her old speech habits, and learn new patterns.
Other speech disorders are much harder to overcome with speech classes alone. Physical traits such as poor motor skills or a cleft lip may affect speech, but often require medical attention in order to jump that hurdle. In the same vein, speech disorders can coexist with psychological issues (e.g. trauma or autism), and may call for the help of a counselor or mental health professional.
How effective is treatment?
It will take time, hard work, and patience, but almost all communication disorders can be improved by therapy. Click to Tweet
According to an Indiana University study in 1998, “children who receive phonological treatment exhibit both narrow and broad changes in their sound systems that enhance their overall intelligibility and general communicative functioning.”
As a bonus, we have more resources available at our fingertips now than previous generations ever dreamed of. In addition to therapy, people with communication and speech disorders canlear secondary language skills (e.g. writing, sign language) and take advantage of modern communication aid apps.
So don’t give up hope, and look out for our next post, “Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Common Mistakes in Therapy.”
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