Children begin to develop speech and language from birth until around 5 years of age. Children who present difficulties or delays in speech or language acquisition may have a more serious problem that falls under the umbrella of a language and/or speech impairment.
What are the Speech Impairment or Language Impairments?
A language impairment is the difficulty or inability to express emotion, ideas, or needs. Unlike children with speech impairments, children with language impairments will not make errors in pronunciation, tone, or pattern. Instead, they will have trouble understanding what is being said to him or them and/or using words in sentences. Language impairments will affect how a child learns to read and write.
Examples of speech impairments include:
- Speech-sound disorders: This category includes having difficulty pronouncing letters (like lisping or specific letter substitution), omission of certain letters, or sound distortion.
- Voice disorders: Problems with resonance, duration, and volume. The child’s voice may appear raspy or sound “nasal.”
- Fluency disorders: Stuttering or stammering, having an atypical flow when speaking, repeating particular sounds or words, or inappropriate inhalation or exhalation.
For the most part, the cause of a language or speech impairment is unknown. Some speech impairments may be linked to a physiological problem, such as a cleft palate, hearing loss, motor difficulties (muscle weakness or paralysis, for example), or vocal nodules. It is crucial to address and correct any physical variables in conjunction with individualized speech therapy.
How Language or Speech Impairment Affects Children
Language and speech impairments can negatively impact a child’s social life and academic performance. Oftentimes these children are bullied by their peers, which then leads to social awkwardness, isolation, or behavioral trouble. 40-75% of children with a language impairment will have problems learning to read. In the classroom, children with language or speech impairments may choose not to participate in some activities for fear of embarrassment. Additionally, they may stumble through or feel frustrated by certain assignments or projects, such as spelling, reading aloud, answering questions, or giving oral presentations.
What Parents and Schools Can do to Help in Language Disorders
The U.S. Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) stipulates that a child with a language and/or speech impairment is eligible for special education should the impairment “adversely affect a student’s educational performance.” Early recognition of a speech of language disorder is key to countering the problem. Because these disorders can be isolating, school professionals and parents should work together to develop an individualized programs (IEP) for their children/students. Aside from extracurricular work with a speech pathologist, school-aged children may benefit from special education accommodations. These include:
- Allowing a student to write assignments or responses as an alternative to oral participation
- Allowing extra time for in-class responses
- Teaching “on-the-go” relaxation techniques to reduce stress and/or ease muscle tension
- Encouraging other students to be patient and supportive
- Communication Disorders: State of Minnesota: https://education.mn.gov/MDE/dse/sped/cat/lan/
- Speech Disorders: Cincinnati Children’s: https://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/s/speech-disorder
- merrill.ku.edu: https://merrill.ku.edu/top-10-things-you-should-know
- kidshealth.org: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/speech-factsheet.html