Speech & Language Disorders – An Introduction

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The inability to communicate clearly can be particularly trying. We shed some light on speech and language disorders - their causes and possible treatments.

Speech & Language Disorders - An Introduction

This year's Oscar winning film ‘The King’s Speech’ brought to the fore the issue of speech and language impairment. The movie resonated specially with people who struggle everyday with speech disorders. These disorders may make communication difficult and public speaking an ordeal. Speech disorders can range from simple lisping to stammering or from dyspraxia to dysarthria - disorders which make verbal communication difficult. The causes range from brain injury, neurological disorders, genetic disorders, hearing loss, autism etc.


Stammering or stuttering, is a very common speech disorder and can be treated with speech therapy. It can be acquired, neurological or developmental in nature.

There are three main types of stammering. The first is when specific sounds are repeated, such as “s”. This often makes a word such as “sweat” be pronounced as “s-s-s-sweat”. The second is when a specific sound is prolonged before the rest of the word is pronounced, such as “sssssssweat”. The third type of stammering occurs when some speech is blocked and there is a short period of silence in the middle of a word, such as “s……weat”.

A variety of factors, ranging from psychological to environmental can produce a stammer.  More men than women stammer and sometimes exhaustion and fear can contribute to a stammer. In some cases, individualised speech and therapy sessions help in coping and solving the problem.

Other common speech, language and voice related disorders:

Misarticulation: Misarticulation refers to the inability to articulate clearly or well. Misarticulation disorders are characterized by the addition, deletion or distortion of phonemes. (A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that forms a contrast between utterances.) One of the most common misarticulations is the lisp – the inability to produce a a specific speech sound. Many children lisp naturally but after about five years of age lisping should be investigated by a speech professional.

ClutteringAn individual repeats syllables or phrases unconsciously when the speech accelerates to a more rapid pace.

Spasmodic dysphonia: This is a voice disorder caused by involuntary muscle movements in the vocal cords and could be genetic.

Aphasia /DysphasiaThis is an acquired disorder, wherein an individual may have issues with understanding spoken or written language or in speaking.

Apraxia /dyspraxia: Developmental apraxia of speech occurs mainly in children and is often present from birth, but acquired apraxia of speech is mostly present in adults and is often the result of injury to the part of the brain that controls language use. In this disorder, the adult or child has issues in producing speech / speech related movements of the articulators on demand.

DysarthriaIn this disorder, a person’s speech becomes imprecise, slow and slurred due to issues with the connections of the brain to the speech articulators.

Speech therapy

Speech Therapy works best when proper guidance and support is given at an early stage. For most speech, language and communication disorders a speech therapist plays an important role in rehabilition of the disorder. On going and continuous guidance and support from a speech therapist is imperative. Articulation therapy involves the therapist patiently teaching how to produce particular sounds and syllables. This can include physical demonstrations of how to use the tongue and mouth for specific sounds.

Language intervention encourages the child to understand as well as talk more to help develop his or her language abilities.

Oral motor therapy develops the muscles in and around the mouth (including jaw, lips, and tongue movements) and works when the speech problems are caused by a physical issue.


Reviewed by Tanushree S Chandok, Senior Speech language Therapist

Photograph by Sarah Cuypers, via sxc.hu