Speech disorders in children – what parents must know about it

Speech disorder is a common name for several conditions where a person is unable to create the normal speech sounds necessary for communication with other people. Speech delays and problems usually become noticeable during early childhood. It’s important to recognize and treat speech and language disorders on time, otherwise they can significantly influence a child’s social and academic development.

A speech disorder – what is it?

In daily life, we may consider speaking as an effortless skill, but speaking requires complex coordination of many body systems and muscles, nerves, and a developed sense of precise timing. Problems with speaking sometimes have unknown causes which disappear with time. However, causes of speech problems can be more serious: mental disorders; birth defects of the brain; hearing loss; muscle, nerves, lips, teeth, or jaw deformations.

Speech disorders are classified into three groups:

Articulation disorders or phonological disorders (difficulties in producing speech sounds physically, usually due to the problematic structure or shape of bones and muscles involved in making sounds)

Disfluencies (repetition of sounds, words, or parts of sentences. Stuttering  is the most famous example of disfluency disorder).

Voice disorders ( problems with voice caused by physical impairments of the larynx function and/or vocal resonance)

Does my child have speech disorder?

Children do develop speech in different ways, but in general normal children’s speech and language development follows a certain pattern. All kids show some difficulties while mastering the skill of speaking and for the most part, we find it cute and adorable. However, sometimes inability to pronounce certain letters or sounds tends to continue and we may suspect there is a more serious cause to this. The best way to determine the true cause of a speech problem is to seek help from a speech pathologist.

What are speech disorder treatments?

Speech pathologists perform various tests and phonological analysis to diagnose the nature of speech disorders and determine adequate speech therapy. If the disorder is not the result of problematic muscle, hearing, or brain functions, the problem is usually considered less serious and it can be treated fairly easy through a series of speech therapy sessions, activities, and exercises. By working closely with a speech therapist, a child will get instructions on how to breathe properly, how to move or relax speaking muscles, how to place the tongue and teeth for better pronunciation of problematic sounds, and will practice speaking through lots of oral-motor exercises.

If a child suffers from a speech disorder caused by a more serious condition (such as autism, Down syndrome, etc.), a speech therapist will determine the severity of the disorder and plan activities and exercises with the goal to determine the best treatment to which the child will respond. This usually includes helping a child learn gestures, muscle functions, motor function exercises, and sequences for speech. In younger children, therapies will be in the form of playing, while if the child is older and able, treating speech disorders be in the form of exercising.

Speech difficulties can be very frustrating, both for children and their parents. Speech therapies can help a lot, but sometimes maintaining control over one’s own ability to speak can be a lifelong process. Encourage your child to be heard and not to feel embarrassed for having problems speaking. Teach them they are beautiful people and much more than their ability to speak.

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