Speech-Language Disorders and the Speech-Language
Speech and language disorders affect one's ability to talk,
understand, read, and write. Such disorders have different
causes, and may range from a few speech sound errors or
repetitions of sounds or words to a total loss of the ability to
use speech to communicate effectively.
How many persons have speech and language disorders?
- The prevalence of speech sound disorders in young children
is 8-9%. By the first grade, roughly 5% of children have
noticeable speech disorders; the majority of these speech
disorders have no known cause.
- Between 6 and 8 million people in the United States have
some form of language impairment.
- About one million persons in the United States have aphasia
(partial or complete impairment of language comprehension and
expression caused by brain damage, most often from
- It is estimated that more than 3 million Americans
- Approximately 7.5 million people in the United States have
a voice disorder.
Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication
What is a speech disorder?
A speech disorder is a problem with fluency, voice, and/or how
a person says speech sounds.
- Fluency disorder - an interruption in the flow or rhythm of
speech characterized by hesitations, repetitions, or
prolongations of sounds, syllables, words, or phrases.
- Articulation disorder - difficulties with the way sounds
are formed and strung together, usually characterized by
substituting one sound for another (wabbit for rabbit),
omitting a sound (han for hand), and distorting a sound (ship
- Voice disorder - characterized by inappropriate pitch (too
high, too low, never changing, or interrupted by breaks);
quality (harsh, hoarse, breathy, or nasal); loudness,
resonance, and duration.
What is a language disorder?
A language disorder is a problem with understanding and/or
using spoken, written, and/or other symbol systems (e.g.,
gestures, sign language). The disorder may involve 1) the form of
language (phonology, morphology, syntax), 2) the content of the
language (semantics), and/or the function of language in
communication (pragmatics) in any combination.
1. Form of Language
- Phonology is the sound system of a language and the rules
about how sounds are combined.
- Morphology is the structure of words and how word forms are
- Syntax is the order and combination of words to form
2. Content of Language
- Semantics is related to the meanings of words and
3. Function of Language
- Pragmatics is the combination of language components
(phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics) in functional
and socially appropriate ways.
Language disorders may include:
- Impaired language development - characterized by a marked
slowness or gaps in the development of language skills.
- Aphasia - the loss of acquired language abilities,
generally resulting from stroke or brain injury.
How can a speech-language pathologist help individuals with
speech and language disorders?
Treatment will vary depending on the nature and severity of
the problem, the age of the individual, and the individual's
awareness of the problem. Speech-language pathologists select
intervention approaches based on the highest quality of
scientific evidence available in order to:
- Help individuals with articulation disorders to learn how
to say speech sounds correctly
- Assist individuals with voice disorders to develop proper
control of the vocal and respiratory systems for correct voice
- Assist individuals who stutter to increase their
- Help children with language disorders to improve language
comprehension and production (e.g., grammar, vocabulary, and
conversation, and story-telling skills)
- Assist individuals with aphasia to improve comprehension of
speech and reading and production of spoken and written
- Assist individuals with severe communication disorders with
the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)
systems, including speech-generating devices (SGDs)
- Help individuals with speech and language disorders and
their communication partners understand the disorders to
achieve more effective communication in educational, social,
and vocational settings
- Advise individuals and the community on how to prevent
speech and language disorders
In which settings do speech-language pathologists work?
Speech-language pathologists provide professional services
- public and private schools
- rehabilitation centers
- short-term and long-term nursing care facilities
- community clinics
- colleges and universities
- private practice
- state and local health departments
- state and federal government agencies
- home care
- adult day care centers
- centers for persons with developmental disabilities
- research laboratories
- institutes and private agencies
What else do speech-language pathologists do?
In addition to working with children and adults with speech
and language disorders, speech-language pathologists also assess
- Swallowing disorders - the inability to swallow
- Cognitive-communication disorders - the impairment of
cognitive processes including attention, memory, abstract
reasoning, awareness, and executive functions (e.g.,
self-monitoring, planning and problem solving).
- Auditory processing disorders - the inability to understand
spoken language in the absence of a hearing problem.
- Accent modification for individuals without communication