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The facts on speech and language disorders

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recognizes May as Better Speech and Hearing Month. 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, repetitions of sounds or words, to a total loss of the ability to use speech to communicate effectively.

The prevalence of speech sound disorders in young children is 8 to 9 percent. By the first grade, roughly 5 percent of children have noticeable speech disorders, and the majority of these speech disorders have no known cause. Below are some facts about speech disorders.

▪ Between 6 and 8 million people in the United States have some form of language impairment.

▪ About 1 million people in the United States have aphasia (partial or complete impairment of language comprehension and expression caused by brain damage, most often from stroke).

▪ It is estimated that more than 3 million Americans stutter.

▪ Approximately 7.5 million people in the United States have a voice 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; 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 (“dut” for duck), omitting a sound (“nake” for snake), and distorting a sound “slushy” or lisped “s” in sun.

Voice disorder: Characterized by inappropriate pitch (too high, too low, never changing or interrupted by breaks); impaired quality (harsh, hoarse or breathy); inappropriate loudness; or impaired resonance (nasal or denasal).

A language disorder is a problem with understanding and/or using spoken, written, and/or other symbol systems (e.g., gestures, sign language).

Language disorders may include:

▪ Impaired language development — characterized by marked slowness or gaps in the development of language skills.

▪ Aphasia — the loss of acquired language abilities, generally resulting from stroke or brain injury.

Treatment for speech and language disorders depends on the nature and severity of the problem, the age of the individual and the individual’s awareness of the problem. As a licensed outpatient speech-language pathologist, I select intervention approaches based on the highest quality of scientific evidence available in order to:

▪ Help individuals with articulation disorders 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 production.

▪ Assist individuals who stutter to increase their fluency.

▪ Help children with language disorders to improve language comprehension and production (e.g., grammar, vocabulary, conversation and story-telling skills).

▪ Assist individuals with aphasia to improve comprehension of speech and reading and production of spoken and written language.

▪ 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.

With early treatment, many speech disorders can be reversed or even prevented. In the case of children, parents should not delay seeking an assessment if they have any questions about their child’s communication skills.

Janet K. Pennington, MS CCC, is a licensed outpatient speech-language pathologist for Mount Nittany Medical Center.

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