What are Speech and Language Disabilities?


A speech or language impairment occurs when a student has difficulty producing speech or difficulty with comprehension or expression of language in the classroom setting.There are four main areas of speech-language impairments:speech sound production/articulation, fluency, voice and oral language.††


Speech Sound Disorder/Articulation Disorder


A speech sound production disorder is indicated when the student has difficulty being understood by others in the classroom setting.Any student you have difficulty understanding should be referred for screening.Any student eight years old or older that has speech sound errors should be screened by a speech-language pathologist.The most common errors are /r, s, l /.Some difficulties with understanding a studentís speech may†† be due to physical structures of the oral area.Advancements in orthodontics make early identification very important, as the specialists can work on remediation of abnormalities at an early age.For information on how speech-language disorders impact learning, please see How do communication difficulties impact learning?


Fluency Disorder / Stuttering Disorder


A fluency disorder is indicated when a student has difficulty with speaking fluently across settings.You may hear part-word repetitions (Ba-Ba-Baby), whole word repetitions (I, I, I went to the store), sound repetitions (w-w-w-when), or long hesitations or pauses.To be disabling, these would occur at 10 times per 100 words spoken.You may also see struggle behaviors, such as facial grimaces, jerks or abnormal movements during a moment of stuttering.Sometimes children who stutter refrain from speaking except when spoken to, and may be hesitant to elaborate during classroom conversations and discussions. Fluency disorders may cause some emotional difficulty for the student.Early identification and remediation are imperative to the studentís future success academically and socially.There are many strategies that teachers can use to help students speak more fluently in the classroom and reduce stuttering behaviors.††


Language Impairment / Expressive-Receptive Language Disorder


A language disorder occurs when a student has difficulty understanding what has been said to them (receptive language) and/or has difficulty expressing their thoughts and ideas (expressive language).In the school setting, language disorders occur when students have difficulty understanding verbal directions, comprehending material presented orally, and participating in classroom discussions.Generally these students have weak and limited vocabulary skills, poor sentence structure and grammar when they speak.†† These students usually provide one-word answers or simple sentences, without usage of complex sentences and conjunctions.They often have difficulty remembering peopleís names, and use similar names interchangeably (e.g.; Mrs. Addington & Mrs. Appling). These students usually donít volunteer to answer questions, have difficulty with higher level language understanding (such as jokes, verbal absurdities, and slang expressions).


Difficulties in oral language directly impact written language ability.Usually, students with oral language impairments have difficulties with generating topics for conversation, sequencing and memory skills, spelling/understanding the sound system of language, reading comprehension, and concept development.Since most classroom material is presented orally, these students will struggle academically.†† For more information on educational impacts please view How do communication difficulties impact learning?


Voice Disorder


A voice disorder occurs when a student does not produce a voice that sounds appropriate for their age and gender.The most common voice disorder in children is vocal nodules, or small, callus-like bumps on the vocal cords caused by excessive yelling and shouting.Other disorders include disorders of pitch (sounds too high or too low for age and gender); nasality (sounds either too nasal or sounds like the child has a cold); quality (too hoarse or breathy); or breathing (produces too much air or too little air when speaking).Disorders of the voice may be caused by a medical condition.It is imperative that any child who has an abnormal voice for more than 2-3 weeks be referred to the speech-language pathologist for screening, so a timely referral to a physician can be made.


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