What is a Speech Disorder?

speech disorder

A speech disorder is different to a speech delay. A speech disorder is more than a child just using immature speech patterns. Speech disorder means that their speech is following a non-typical speech development path.

​Some journals and medical practitioners do use the term “speech disorders” as an umbrella term to mean all speech impairments. Consequently, in the literature you will find terms like speech delay, speech disorder, speech sound disorder (SSD), speech impediments, speech impairment, speech difficulties, phonological disorder, phonological delay, articulation disorder and speech dyspraxia (CAS) used inter-changeably.

​What are the characteristics of a speech disorder?

Children with a speech disorder often are more difficult to understand than a child with a speech delay. It can also be harder and take longer for therapy to improve speech development than for a child with a speech delay.

Speech impediments or problems may be identified even during baby speech development and even when baby babble does not develop well. In the early stages of speech problems, it can be hard to determine if it is a speech delay or a speech disorder.

​Typical Toddler speech development is characterised by learning how to say sounds in a predicable order and the use of different phonological processes at different ages. Toddlers with a speech disorder may not follow these predictable paths.

​Types of Speech Disorders.

speech disorders in children

There are many different types of speech disorders however the main ones include:

Phonological Disorders

These are speech disorders characterised by children using non-developmental or non-typical speech sound patterns (phonological processes) that simplify how children say words. Common non-developmental phonological processes that indicate a child may be at risk of a speech disorder includes:

  • Word-initial deletions – e.g., “dad” is said as “_ad”
  • Vowel distortions – e.g., “pen” is said as “pun”
  • Sound preference substitutions – e.g., there is over use of one particular sound e.g. /d/ is used in many words such as “ball” said as “dall”, “car” said as ‘dar”, peanut butter said as “deedut duder”

Motor Speech Disorders

These are speech disorders characterised by poor co-ordination of the child’s tongue, lips, breathing and thinking. Child Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is one example of a motor speech disorder. CAS is also known as Childhood Verbal Dyspraxia or Speech Dyspraxia, or Developmental Dyspraxia.

​There is “nothing wrong” with the child’s tongue or lips. They can usually move their tongues and lips just the same as other children when they are not thinking about it (e.g., licking lips to get food off ). However, when they try to consciously make these mouth movements to say words all the movements become very uncoordinated. Their “motor” control is poor. Some children will have mild motor speech disorders and other will have very severe motor speech disorders that can stop them being able to speak. Some children born with cerebral palsy or that have had head injuries may have Dyspraxia of speech. However CAS refers to children that have verbal dyspraxia but there are no obvious causes of these problems.

What to do if you think your child might have a speech disorder

speech disorder
  • Obtain a speech therapy assessment and global developmental check
Obtain a speech therapy assessment if you have concerns your child is not developing speech well or their clarity of speech is poor for their age. Only by completing specific assessment can a diagnosis of a speech disorder be made. It can also be important to eliminate factors such as ‘blocked ears” or other medical concerns

​As some children present with speech delays AND speech disorders at the same time, it is not always a clear cut diagnosis. Late talkers and children with autism who are not using any words or only attempting a few words may be at risk of speech disorders. Work on developing more spoken words and language skills may be required before the speech difficulties can be tackled.

​It is important that the speech therapist is experienced in treating speech disorders so that the correct programme or programmes can be implemented as soon as possible. Contact SpeechNet Speech Therapy if you have any questions.

  • Provide a rich speech and language environment in the home / child care centre or school.
SpeechNet Speech Pathology website provides a huge range of parent suggestions on how to provide a rich speech and language environment for all children. These techniques and ideas are of particular importance to children showing speech impediments such as speech disorders.

The everyday moment videos particularly demonstrate how you can be modelling and supporting language in simple everyday interactions. The book reading and toy printables provide ideas of how to encourage speech and language while enjoying books or playing! Children with speech disorders need lot and lots and lots of help. Just doing speech therapy once a week is generally not enough. It is important that every interaction is a fun way to support speech development in children.

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Sandra McMahon

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