Monica Marzinske, CCC-SLP
Speaking clearly: Help for people with speech and language disorders
Speaking and language abilities vary from person to person. Some people can quickly articulate exactly what they are thinking or feeling, while others struggle being understood or finding the right words.
These struggles could be due to a speech or language disorder if communication struggles cause ongoing communication challenges and frustrations. Speech and language disorders are common.
It's estimated that 5% to 10% of people in the U.S. have a communication disorder. By the first grade, about 5% of U.S. children have a noticeable speech disorder. About 3 million U.S. adults struggle with stuttering and about 1 million U.S. adults have aphasia. These conditions make reading, speaking, writing and comprehending difficult.
People with speech and language disorders can find hope in rehabilitation. Speech-language pathologists can evaluate and treat these disorders. This can lead to a happier, healthier and more expressive life.
Types of speech and language disorders
Speech and language disorders come in many forms, each with its own characteristics:
People with aphasia have difficulty with reading, writing, speaking or understanding information they've heard. The intelligence of a person with aphasia is not affected.
People with dysarthria demonstrate slurred or imprecise speech patterns that can affect the understanding of speech.
A person with this disorder has difficulty coordinating lip and tongue movements to produce understandable speech.
This condition refers to swallowing difficulties, including food sticking in the throat, coughing or choking while eating or drinking, and other difficulties.
This speech disorder involves frequent and significant problems with normal fluency and flow of speech. People who stutter know what they want to say but have difficulty saying it.
- Articulation disorder
People with this disorder have trouble learning how to make specific sounds. They may substitute sounds, such as saying "fum" instead of "thumb".
- Phonological disorder
Phonological processes are patterns of errors children use to simplify language as they learn to speak. A phonological disorder may be present if these errors persist beyond the age when most other children stop using them. An example is saying "duh" instead of "duck."
Voice disorders include vocal cord paralysis, vocal abuse and vocal nodules, which could result in vocal hoarseness, changes in vocal volume and vocal fatigue.
- Cognitive communication impairment
People with cognitive communication impairment have difficulty with concentration, memory, problem-solving, and completion of tasks for daily and medical needs.
Speech and language disorders are more common in children. It can take time to develop the ability to speak and communicate clearly. Some children struggle with finding the right word or getting their jaws, lips or tongues in the correct positions to make the right sounds.
In adults, speech and language disorders often are the result of a medical condition or injury. The most common of these conditions or injuries are a stroke, brain tumor, brain injury, cancer, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease or other underlying health complications.
Speech and language disorders can be concerning, but speech-language pathologists can work with patients to evaluate and treat these conditions. Each treatment plan is specifically tailored to the patient.
Treatment plans can address difficulties with:
- Speech sounds, fluency or voice
- Understanding language
- Sharing thoughts, ideas and feelings
- Organizing thoughts, paying attention, remembering, planning or problem-solving
- Feeding and swallowing
- Vocabulary or improper grammar use
Treatment typically includes training to compensate for deficiencies; patient and family education; at-home exercises; or neurological rehabilitation to address impairments due to medical conditions, illnesses or injury.
Treatment options are extensive and not limited by age. Children and adults can experience the benefits of treatment.
If you or a loved one are struggling with speech and language issues, you are not alone. Millions of people experience similar daily challenges. Better yet, help is available.
Monica Marzinske is a speech-language pathologist in New Prague, Minnesota.