Speech Disorders

Written by April Kahn | Published on July 8, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Wider, MD

What are Speech Disorders?

Speech disorders can affect the way a person creates sounds. These sounds, of course, help us to form words and are necessary for communication with other people. Speech disorders can affect both adults and children. Certain voice disorders may also be considered speech disorders.

One of the most commonly experienced speech disorders is stuttering. Other speech disorders include:

  • apraxia: a motor speech disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain related to speaking
  • dysarthria: a motor speech disorder in which the muscles of the mouth, face or respiratory system may become weak or have difficulty moving.

Some people with speech disorders are aware of what they would like to say, but are unable to articulate their thoughts. This may lead to self-esteem issues and the development of depression. If treated early, these conditions can be corrected.

What Causes Speech Disorders?

Speech disorders affect the vocal cords, muscles, nerves, and other structures within the throat.

Speech disorders can be caused by:

  • vocal cord damage
  • brain damage
  • muscle weakness
  • respiratory weakness
  • strokes
  • polyps or nodules on the vocal cords
  • vocal cord paralysis

People who have certain medical or developmental conditions may also have speech disorders. Common conditions that can lead to speech disorders are:

  • autism
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • strokes
  • oral cancer
  • laryngeal cancer
  • Huntington’s disease
  • dementia
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Speech disorders may be hereditary, or they can develop over time.

What Are the Signs of a Speech Disorder?

Depending on what causes the speech disorder, several symptoms may be present.

Common symptoms experienced by people with speech disorders are:

  • repeating sounds (most often seen in people who stutter)
  • adding extra sounds and words
  • elongating words
  • making jerky movements while talking (usually involving the head)
  • blinking several times while talking
  • visible frustration when trying to communicate
  • taking frequent pauses when talking
  • distorting sounds when talking
  • hoarseness (raspy- or gravely-sounding voice)

How Are Speech Disorders Diagnosed?

Denver Articulation Screening Exam

The most commonly used testing system in place to diagnose speech disorders is called the Denver Articulation Screening Examination. This test is typically used to evaluate the clarity in pronunciation in children between the ages of 2 and 7. This five-minute test uses various exercises to assess the child’s speech.

Early Language Milestones Scale 2

This is a test used to determine a child’s language development. This test can quickly identify delayed speech or language disorders.

Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test Revised

This test measures a person’s vocabulary and ability to speak. The person will listen to various words and choose pictures that describe the words. People who have severe mental retardation and those who are blind will not able to take this assessment. The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test has been revised many times since its first version was administered in 1959.

How Are Speech Disorders Treated?

Mild speech disorders may not require any treatment. Some speech disorders may simply go away on their own. However, speech disorders that do not improve on their own may be helped with speech therapy.

Treatment can vary and depends on the type of disorder. In speech therapy, a professional therapist will guide you through exercises that work to strengthen the muscles in the face and throat. You will also learn to control your breathing while speaking. Learning muscle strengthening exercises and how to control breathing helps to improve the way your words sound. You will also learn ways to practice smoother, more fluent speech.

Some people suffer with nervousness or depression caused by embarrassment from a speech disorder. Talk therapy may be helpful in these situations. In talk therapy a mental healthcare specialist will discuss ways to improve your outlook of the condition as well as ways to cope with the condition. If your depression is severe, antidepressant medications can be prescribed to help.

Long-Term Outlook

The outlook is improved for people who seek early treatment. Seeking treatment early helps you prevent a speech disorder from worsening. The outlook for those with permanent disabilities depends upon the severity of the disability.

Potential Complications of Speech Disorders

Untreated speech disorders may cause a person to experience a great deal of anxiety when talking to people. Over time, this anxiety can trigger anxiety disorders or a phobia of speaking in public. Early treatment for anxiety can help prevent the development of anxiety disorders or phobias. Treatment options include talk therapy and anti-anxiety medications.

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