Speech & Language Disorders

Speech and language disorders are the most common disability for children. According the ASHA (2012), approximately 24% of all children receiving special education services have a primary diagnosis of a speech and/or language disorder. A language disorder is characterized by difficulty understanding or using spoken language. A speech disorder is an impairment in the articulation of speech sounds, fluency of spoken language and/or voice quality. Language may also be impaired due to a specific diagnosis such as autism, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, etc. It is often difficult to determine the exact reasons for a child’s language delays; however, intervention through speech and language therapy is very effective especially when the difficulties are identified early.

Children receiving speech and language services through the public schools may demonstrate any of the following impairments that adversely impact their educational performance:

Speech Disorders

  • Articulation Disorders involve speech production of sounds, words, and connected language (sentences). A child with an articulation disorder may substitute sounds, omit sounds, and distort sounds making understanding what they are saying difficult for the listener. Some children may have difficulty due to apraxia. Apraxia involves difficulty formulating speech sounds due to difficulty with positioning their tongue and mouth.
  • Voice Disorders are characterized by problems with the pitch and volume of the voice. As an example, a child may have a nasal quality to his voice or sound like he has a cold when he does not.
  • Fluency Disorder is characterized by difficulties with fluent speech that is not effortful. The rate and rhythm may be interrupted by fillers such as “um,” repeating what has already been said, and stuttering.

Language Disorders

  • Receptive Language Disorder involves difficulties in the understanding of language, language concepts, and difficulty following instructions involving language.
  • Expressive Language Disorder is characterized by difficulties in the verbal expression of language. Children with expressive language disorders may have difficulty in discriminating differences in speech sounds. They may say “set,” but mean “”sit.” They may also have difficulty with word order such as “Where they at?” Difficulties with the structure of language may be heard as not using plurals and past tense forms.
  • Pragmatic Language Disorder involves difficulties in the social use of language. Children with difficulties in pragmatic language may have difficulties turn taking in communication exchanges, may interrupt others when speaking, be off topic during a conversation, etc.

The following strategies are helpful when working with Champions with speech and/or language disorders:

  • Provide a model for the Champion’s language production, but do not correct overtly and ask him to repeat what you say. For example, the child says “Me walking in door.” The adult provides a model by saying “I am walking through the doorway.” Just be matter of fact and do not highlight the child’s errors.
  • Provide language rich opportunities by talking about what you are doing or what the child is doing. If you are setting up snack and pouring water in cups then just narrate what you are doing to provide language learning opportunities for the Champion.
  • Ask open questions to give the Champion the opportunity to comment. This might be as simple as “What do you think we need to do next?”
  • If the Champion appears to be experiencing difficulties answering questions then provide to possible responses from which he may choose (Multiple Choice).
  • The Champion may benefit from visual cues and graphic organizers to assist him learning new concepts.
  • Champions with severe delays in expressive language skills may benefit from the use of PECS and other communication strategies including assistive technology (Computers).

Turnbull, A., Turnbull, R. &Wehmeyer, M. (2007). Exceptional lives: Special Education in today’s schools. Upper Saddle River, N. J: Pearson Education.