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Speech Disorders

What Are Speech Disorders?

Speech disorders can affect the way a person creates sounds to form words. 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.

Speech disorders can affect adults and children. Early treatment can correct these conditions.

What Causes Speech Disorders?

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

Causes may include:

  • 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 (ADHD)
  • strokes
  • oral cancer
  • laryngeal cancer
  • Huntington’s disease
  • dementia
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)

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

What Are the Symptoms of a Speech Disorder?

Depending on the cause of 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 Denver articulation screening examination is the most commonly used testing system to diagnose speech disorders. This test evaluates 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 test determines 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 intellectual disabilities 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. Others can improve with speech therapy.

Treatment varies 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’ll learn to control your breathing while speaking. Muscle-strengthening exercises and controlled breathing help improve the way your words sound. You’ll also learn ways to practice smoother, more fluent speech.

Some people with speech disorders experience nervousness, embarrassment, or depression. Talk therapy may be helpful in these situations. A therapist will discuss ways to cope with the condition and ways to improve the outlook of your condition. If your depression is severe, antidepressant medications can help.

What Are the Potential Complications of Speech Disorders?

Untreated speech disorders may cause a person to experience a great deal of anxiety. 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.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

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

Content licensed from:

Written by: April Kahn
Medically reviewed on: Nov 24, 2015: Mark R Laflamme, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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