Speech and language disorders are some of the most common developmental difficulties in young children. It is estimated that 5-8% of children have difficulties in one or both of these areas. These difficulties can be of unknown origin or secondary to another existing condition (like autism, hearing impairment or behavioral difficulties).
Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are care providers that work with the percentage of the population that struggles with these disorders. While their work can be multifaceted and their patient’s ages span many years, there are some common issues that all speech therapists can help someone work through.
Speech & Language Disorders
There are a variety of ways in which one’s speech can be affected or disordered. These issues can co-exist or stand-alone; research is unclear on whether these problems are variations of a singular condition or they are singular conditions with different origins.
The most common areas of issue are:
- Phonology: The pattern of sounds used
- Vocabulary: The words that a child can say and understand
- Morphology: Meaningful changes to words in a single tense, number pattern, etc.
- Grammar: How language is constructed and modified
- Narrative Skills: The ability to relate a sequence of ideas
- Pragmatic Language: The ability to understand meaning and communicate effectively in conversation with others
Articulation Disorders: This disorder affects one’s ability to properly form words sounds. Persons with this issue might swap, drop, or distort sounds and letters.
Fluency Disorders: Those who struggle with this issue have problems with rhythm and speed of speech. Stuttering and cluttering are commonly known fluency issues.
Receptive Disorders: This disorder, which alters one’s ability to understand and process others, is often associated with autism, hearing loss, or head injury.
Expressive Disorders: Commonly associated with Down’s syndrome or hearing loss, expressive disorders affect one’s ability to form accurate sentences.
Resonance Disorders: This disorder is caused by physical obstruction or blockage in the nasal or oral cavities. It can be present at birth or be caused by injury or development of illness (like tonsillitis).
Cognitive Communication Disorders: This disorder is rooted in brain dysfunction or injury. Abnormal brain development, neurological issues, or brain injury can all be causes.
Aphasia: This issue, which affects one’s ability to both speak and understand others, may also affect the ability to read or write.
Dysarthria: The issue is caused by weak or uncontrolled speech muscles. It is usually related to multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or stroke.
Who Can Benefit From Speech Therapy?
Typically, speech therapy is associated with children. Their therapy begins early in life, as many of the discussed conditions can be recognized early in childhood. However, SLPs frequently work with adults as well, often after they have suffered from brain injury or illness (like stroke) and have a resulting speech impairment.
What is Involved in Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy is both the assessment and treatment of a variety of speech and language disorders. Speech therapy is performed by SLPs. The ultimate goal of speech therapy is to improve the patient’s communication skills. Therapy practices commonly utilize a variety of different methods and treatments, with the full scope of care dependent on the age of the patient and the specific area of issue(s).
It is difficult to say how long an individual may need speech therapy. The duration of need is going to depend on many factors, including patient age, frequency of therapy, severity of disorder, and the co-existing treatment of any other conditions. Some children have early success and continue to improve simply through the aging process, while other patients will require life-long therapy and speech maintenance.
Speech Therapy for Children
Speech therapy almost always begins with an assessment by an SLP. During this initial assessment, an SLP will be able to determine the type(s) of communication disorder and a plan of care for treating it. Depending on the child, speech therapy may happen one on one or in groups. Exercises and activities will vary depending on the disorder noted, the child’s age, and any special needs.
Activities may include:
- Language intervention activities: SLPs interact through talk, play, and books. This is intended to stimulate language development.
- Articulation therapy: SLP modeling of correct sounds and syllables – parents often need to continue this modeling at home.
- Oral-motor/feeding and swallowing therapy: This is important for patients who suffer from functional issues. The SLP will work to strengthen the muscles needed for eating, drinking, and swallowing.
The input and help of a parent or care provider is often key to the child’s therapy success. Research shows that the best results coincide with significant parent involvement. SLPs usually provide exercises, activities, and homework for the parent and child to work on together at home; the more a provider encourages this work, the quicker results will be seen.
Speech Therapy for Adults
Similarly to children, therapy begins with an assessment by an SLP. Though many exercises may be similar to those that are used with children, SLPs often utilize additional activities with adults. Those may include:
- Cognitive improvement activities: This may be problem-solving, memory, and organization tasks
- Conversational tactics: These activities are meant to improve social communication skills
- Breathing exercises: This may be used by patients with resonance issues
Difficulties with speech can be a challenging situation for an individual. Problems with communication often significantly affect relationships, school, work, and self-worth. Thankfully, the work of SLPs, especially when there is strong caregiver involvement, has been shown to have great success in improving speech and language disorders and ultimately, an individual’s quality of life.
Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) | Sacred Heart University
Associate’s Degree of Nursing (ADN) | North Seattle Community College
Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Marketing, Sales | University of Washington (Seattle)
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