Communication is the act of exchanging information, wants, or needs to each other. Language is the platform in which we communicate via speech, sign language, picture exchange communication (PEC), augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), and more. A communication disorder is an impairment in the ability to use and/or comprehend verbal or nonverbal language.
Communication disorder is the big umbrella term and can include impairments in any of the following areas: speech, expressive and receptive language, pragmatics, fluency, or voice quality. It is an impairment in any of these areas that is impacting the person’s ability to communicate effectively. Language and speech disorders are more specific terms for communication disorders. Individuals may demonstrate one or any combination of communication disorders.
A language disorder is impaired comprehension and/or use of verbal or nonverbal language. This may involve the form of language (phonology, morphology, syntax), the content of language (vocabulary), and/or the function of language in communication (pragmatics) in any combination.
- A mixed receptive and expressive language disorder is a delay in understanding and using spoken and/or written language.
- This individual may have difficulty following directions or formulating 2-3 word sentences.
- An expressive language disorder is a delay in the use of language.
- This individual may have difficulty using appropriate word forms (ie. plurals, present progressive, possessives) or answering questions appropriately.
- A receptive language disorder – a delay in the ability to process and understand spoken and/or written language.
- This individual may have difficulty following 2-step directions.
- A pragmatic communication disorder is the difficulty in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication. This includes a lack of ability to alter communication to fit particular contexts (ie. in a classroom), to follow appropriate rules of conversation, or to understand nonliteral meanings of language (ie. facial expressions, body language).
- This individual may not respond to their name consistently, may not maintain appropriate eye contact, and may have difficulty maintaining a topic in conversation.
A speech disorder is an impairment of the articulation of speech sounds, fluency and/or voice.
- A phonological disorder or articulation disorder is the atypical production of speech sounds characterized by substitutions, omissions, additions or distortions that may interfere with intelligibility (how well you can understand their speech).
- This individual may make sound errors in words such as saying “tup” for “cup” or “swide” for “slide”. You may have difficulty in understanding them when they speak.
- There are many examples and types of speech sound errors. Some errors are developmental. This means the child may still be in the developmental window for acquiring that sound before being considered delayed.
- An excellent resource for development of speech sounds can be found here: http://mommyspeechtherapy.com/wp-content/downloads/forms/sound_development_chart.pdf.
- A fluency disorder is an interruption in the flow of speaking. This is characterized by atypical rate, rhythm, and repetitions in sounds, syllables, words, and phrases. This may be accompanied by excessive tension, struggle behavior, and secondary mannerisms.
- This individual may have word repetitions (“I I I want the truck”) or blocks in their speech (“I ..want the truck”).
- Often times if the child is under 5 years old, this would be considered developmental fluency. And the child’s fluency will gradually improve as they continue to develop their language skills.
- A voice disorder is characterized by the abnormal production and/or absences of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, and/or duration, which is inappropriate for an individual’s age and/or sex.
- This individual may demonstrate a rough or strained voice quality when speaking.
Communication disorders can be acquired or developmental. A communication disorder may result in a primary disability or it may be secondary to other disabilities. Some causes include hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, vocal cord injury, autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, drug abuse, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate, emotional or psychiatric disorders, or developmental disorders. Frequently, the cause of a communication disorder is unknown.
The best way to approach treatment for a communication disorder is to focus on prevention and early intervention. “The first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills,” according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Follow us on social media for tips and ideas on growing your child’s speech and language skills! It is important to monitor your child’s developmental milestones, found here: https://charlottespeechhearing.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/when-to-refer-a-child.pdf.
If you suspect your child may have a communication disorder, please contact us for a speech and language evaluation by one of our speech language pathologists today!
For more speech-language resources, visit our Resources for Families page or YouTube channel.