Speech Sound Disorders
A speech sound disorder occurs when a person has difficulty producing speech sounds, affecting his or her ability to communicate. Children often make mistakes as their vocabulary grows, but a speech sound disorder occurs past the age at which they are expected to know how to make the correct sounds.
Sometimes, speech sound disorders continue into adulthood. Other adults develop speech problems following a stroke or traumatic head injury.
Types of Speech Sound Disorders
There are two main types of speech sound disorders: articulation disorders and phonological disorders.
Articulation disorders involve problems making sounds. Sounds may be substituted, omitted, added or distorted. This results in speech that is difficult for others to understand. Common problems include substituting the letter “r” with “w” (“wabbit” for “rabbit”), shortening words or speaking with a lisp.
Phonological disorders involve patterns of sound errors. Mistakes are made with entire groups of words; for instance, sounds made in the back of the mouth may be substituted with sounds made in the front of the mouth, e.g. substituting the letter “d” for “g” (“got” for “dot”). People with phonological disorders are often able to hear these errors when others speak, without picking up on their own mistakes.
Causes & Treatment
Many times, the cause of speech sound disorders is unknown. Children may not learn how to correctly pronounce certain sounds, and this can carry over into adulthood. Other times, the cause is physical in nature. Developmental disorders, genetic syndromes, neurological disorders, hearing loss and other illnesses may all contribute to speech sound disorders.
A speech-language pathologist (SLP) will thoroughly evaluate a patient to determine the cause of the disorder and recommend a course of treatment. He or she will work closely with the individual to improve articulation, reduce errors and demonstrate which sounds are correct and how to recognize when they are incorrect.
Language disorders aren’t confined to children. Adults may experience problems as well, usually the result of either a disorder they’ve had since childhood or a newly acquired disorder related to disease or trauma. The latter scenario is often accompanied by a loss of function in other areas and poses a threat to a person’s health and quality of life.
What Causes a Language Disorder?
Unlike a speech disorder, which involves difficulty with pronunciation or articulation, a language disorder occurs when a person has trouble understanding others or sharing their own thoughts, ideas and feelings. It is commonly associated with a stroke.
Other medical conditions that may be responsible for acquired adult language disorders include dementia, traumatic brain injury, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), Huntington’s Disease and certain types of cancer.
In some cases, a language disorder may have existed since birth and not become apparent until language demands escalated with age.
What Are the Symptoms of a Language Disorder?
Children may experience preschool language disorders or language-based learning disabilities. Symptoms associated with the former include difficulty with the following:
- Understanding and/or using gestures.
- Following directions.
- Answering questions.
- Identifying objects.
- Putting words together to form sentences.
- Starting conversations and taking turns with others.
- Telling a story.
- Learning the alphabet.
Language-based learning disabilities involve problems with age-appropriate reading and writing. Dyslexia is a perfect example; children have difficulty with both spoken and written words and often experience problems expressing ideas, learning vocabulary, understanding questions and following directions. They may mix up the order of letters in words or numbers in math equations.
It is important to note that language-based learning disabilities have nothing to do with a child’s intelligence.
Adult language disorders are usually classified as aphasia, the result of damage to the areas of the brain that are responsible for language. Symptoms include difficulty producing (e.g., finding the right words to say, using made-up words) and understanding (misunderstanding others when they speak, misinterpreting what is said) language and problems with reading and writing.
How Are Language Disorders Treated?
Adult language disorders are best treated by a professional speech-language pathologist (SLP) skilled in the evaluation and treatment of patients with this type of disorder. The SLP will converse with the patient and may conduct a variety of tests to determine whether a disorder is present and if so gauge its severity.
Treating adult language disorders can be challenging. When language loss occurs following a stroke or other traumatic brain injury, the neurological damage is often progressive and difficult (if not impossible) to reverse. Speech and language therapy can help a person regain some functioning, but the odds of a full recovery are rare.