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What is a Speech Disorder?

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If you are like most people, when you hear the term speech therapy or speech disorder, your first thought is of a child who demonstrates difficulty saying their “r” sound. However, the term speech disorder is much broader than just saying a few sounds correctly.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) defines a speech disorder as difficulty producing speech sounds correctly or fluently, or problems with voice production.

What does that really mean?

There are 3 main areas of speech production: speech sound production, fluency and voice.

  • Speech sound production is how a person physically forms sounds
    • Examples include articulation disorder, phonological processing disorder, motor speech disorders and apraxia
  • Fluency is the rate, smoothness and continuity of sound production
    • Stuttering is one example
  • Voice is the pitch, quality and volume of the sound produced by the larynx (voice box)
    • Examples include vocal fold nodules and polyps, cleft palate

A child may exhibit an impairment in one, two, or all three areas of speech in any combination.

 

What does a speech disorder look like?

A child with a speech sound disorder may:

  • Be difficult to understand
  • Substitute one sound for another (“w” for “r”)
  • Lateralize their “s” sound also known as a lisp
  • Drop sounds or parts of words completely (“boom” for broom or “nana” for banana)
  • Distort vowel sounds (“Bah” for Bye or “bahk” for book)
  • Sound younger than they are; meaning, they may have typical errors made by young children (“wawa” for water or “bue” for blue) at an older age.
  • Demonstrate frustration when the speaker does not understand their message


A child with a fluency disorder may:

  • May have pauses in the middle of their words, phrase or sentence
  • Repeat a sound or syllable in a word (“I want the b-b-b-book”)
  • Repeat a word (“I want the the the the the book”)
  • Prolong a sound in a word (“I wwwwant the book”)
  • Add in filler words (“I want the uh uh book”)
  • Demonstrate physical difficulty or tension when producing a sound (scrunching their face or tightness in their neck and shoulders)
  • Make word substitutions to avoid difficult words/sounds (“I www need the book”)
  • May demonstrate a very fast or irregular rate of speech
  • May sound disorganized by stopping, restarting or changing ideas while speaking


A child with a voice disorder may:

  • Sound hoarse, rough or scratchy
  • Sound overly breathy
  • Sound monotone
  • Sound as though their nose is being pinched shut while speaking
  • Produce sounds through their nose/air escapes their nose while speaking
  • Use an unusual pitch or change pitch in unusual ways while speaking
  • Lose their voice frequently after speaking for a short time
  • Choke frequently when drinking or eating


Are a speech disorder and language disorder the same?

While both are considered to fall under the umbrella of a communication disorder, a language disorder is different from a speech disorder. A language disorder is an impairment of our understanding and use of language. A speech disorder is an impairment in our ability to physically produce language.

 

Helpful Websites:

The Parish School

The Carruth Center

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association