Role of Speech Therapy in Childhood Communication Disorders

According to the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (CASLPA), speech disorders affect around eight to 12 percent of preschool aged children.  In the US, that number is around 8-9%.  Speech and communication disorders have a direct impact on children’s daily lives, socially, personally, and academically.

There are great resources for getting help with speech problems. Speech therapy is usually done with a speech pathologist and can make a significant difference in overcoming communication roadblocks.

Childhood Communication Disorders

Language Delay

Language delay occurs when a child is developing normally except language is developing at a pace slower than the child’s peers. Language delay is much like a four-year-old using the speech patterns and noises of a two-year-old. Language delay can occur in two forms: understanding of language or use of language. The child may begin to talk at a later age, has a tough time answering questions, has difficulty following verbal instructions, or is not using two-word combinations to describe situations (go potty, Mommy here) at two years of age.

Speech Delay

Some children may have difficulty making some sounds. Apraxia, a severe form of speech delay, also known as Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), is a neurological condition affecting the muscles the mouth uses to speak at the motor level. A child with apraxia knows what they want or need to say but cannot move their lips or tongue to achieve speech and speak sounds. Sounds are learned typically but at a more gradual pace. What happens with apraxia is the brain struggles at the signal level to get muscles to move properly.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder

Central Auditory Processing Disorder, or CAPD for short, is a condition that makes it hard for kids to distinguish between different sounds in words. It is difficult for the child to make sense of the sounds they are hearing, despite passing a hearing test.  Symptoms of CAPD are similar to those of other learning disability disorders, but the underlying cause is different.  Children with this disorder may scramble sounds, much like the brain glitching on audio input. For example, the child may not understand the difference between the number sixteen and the number sixty.

Stuttering or Stammering

Also known as Childhood-onset Fluency Disorder,  it is a speech disorder that involves regularly occurring words and results in major problems with the normal flow of speech. The affected person may pause because they’ve reached a troublesome word or sound. Stuttering usually presents as a repetition of sounds or syllables, a prolonged sound as in the first letter of a word becoming stretched, or interjections (um, ah, like, you know, and uh).

Language Based Learning Disability

Language based learning disability refers to disabilities relating to writing, reading and spelling. Dyslexia is an intricate language issue specific to learning problems relating to reading. It involves difficulty with processing words into the sounds they’re made of, such as translating thoughts into spoken word, or thoughts into written word. Words read or spoken to the affected person are also processed differently. Children with dyslexia struggle with spelling, reading, and have difficulty with words that rhyme. Here is an example of what a dyslexic child may experience while trying to read: “With dyslexia, Santa Clause and Easter Bunny might look like Santa CluasadnEatser Bunny.”

How Are Communication Disorders Diagnosed?

In order to receive a proper diagnosis, a speech language pathologist will work with parents and classroom teachers to formulate a comprehensive standardized assessment of a child’s learning disability. The assessment typically takes into consideration the age of the child, as well as the linguistic development stage appropriate for the age.

Speech pathologists may use language sampling where they assess a child’s abilities and deficits in casual conversation or by asking the child open ended questions. They may use systematic observation to assess which areas the child struggles in the most or may interview the parents to see what specific concerns they have. A child may encounter a curriculum-based assessment in which the speech therapist specifically pinpoints language demands of their current age group and academic level. Diagnoses will likely lead to speech therapy for children affected.

How Does Speech Therapist Treat Communication Disorders?

Speech therapy for children can play a significant role in a child’s life. Treatment is contingent on a lot of different factors, including the extent and type of disorder, the child’s age and medical history, their tolerance for therapies, expectations for the progression of the disorder, and of course the parents’ thoughts and opinions. Individualized treatment can include independent or group remedial intervention. Specific techniques are used to develop and increase communication skills in the area of deficiency. Another approach is to recognize the child’s strengths and implement a treatment plan that enables the child to circumvent the communication issue.