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Speech disorders: causes, signs, diagnosis, and treatment

May 18, 2021 • read

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Speech disorders: causes, signs, diagnosis, and treatment

Speaking may seem like second nature for most people, but for people experiencing speech disorders, that isn’t the case.

If you believe you or your child may have a speech disorder, this article will help clarify some information about what can be considered a speech disorder. We’ll also talk about how speech disorders can affect your ability to speak, some common causes, and frequently used treatments.

What is a speech disorder?

While most people may recognize a few different types of speech disorders, there’s actually a wide range of conditions relating to speech disorders. Some may be present at birth, or develop over a long period of time. There are some speech disorders caused by issues relating to neurological function, and others that are the result of disabilities or injuries.

Speech disorders are conditions that affect a person’s ability to make the sounds necessary to form words. These can also affect the fluency of their words or the quality of their voice. 

These are not to be confused with language disorders. Language disorders impair a person’s ability to learn new words or understand what is being said to them, or their use of spoken, written, or symbol systems. 

Speech disorders can prevent you from communicating clearly with other people, or make it difficult to articulate yourself when you’re trying to speak.

What are some common speech disorders?

There are a wide range of conditions that fall into the category of speech disorders, but the three most commonly occurring speech disorders are:

  • Stuttering
  • Apraxia
  • Dysarthria

This discussion will focus on these most frequently occurring types of speech disorders.

Some other types of speech disorders include:

  • Orofacial myofunctional disorders (relating to abnormal growth or development of the facial bones and muscles, such as cleft lip, palate, or tongue-tie)
  • Articulation disorders (relating to the inability to form specific sounds, causing verbal distortion when speaking)
  • Fluency disorders (developmental stuttering or neurologic stuttering)
  • Voice disorders (misuse or organic changes of the vocal mechanism such as vocal polyps, nodules, or webbing to name a few)
  • Autism-related speech disorders (relating to possible language disorders, as well)
  • Resonance disorders (relating to blockages in the mouth, nose, and throat, which causes changes to voice quality)

What can cause a speech disorder?

There are two different types of stuttering speech disorders, each with their own causes.

Neurogenic stuttering refers to stuttering caused by an issue preventing proper coordination between the different parts of the brain that allow for speech.

Developmental stuttering typically affects young children who are still learning to speak. The risks of this occurring in children could be increased dramatically, depending on the child’s genetics.

Apraxia is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that allow the brain to communicate with different parts of the body. Verbal apraxia refers to an issue with the motor skills that allow a person to speak or correctly form the sounds of words – even if they know what they want to say.

Dysarthria on the other hand is a condition affecting the tone, strength, and coordination of all or any of the muscles used for speaking. This weakness may make speech very difficult for the person affected.

Some direct causes of the brain damage or muscle weakness relating to speech disorders include:

  • Vocal cord damage
  • Strokes
  • Nodules or polyps on the vocal cords
  • Vocal cord paralysis
  • Respiratory weakness
  • Head injury
  • Dementia
  • Degenerative diseases (i.e., Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease)
  • Autism
  • Down syndrome
  • Hearing loss

What are some signs and symptoms of a speech disorder?

The most commonly seen signs and symptoms of speech disorders include:

  • Repetition
  • Elongating words or sounds
  • Jerky movements while speaking (usually involving the head)
  • Frustration when trying to speak
  • Blinking repeatedly while talking
  • Adding extra sounds or words when speaking
  • Rearranging syllables
  • Difficulty with pronunciation
  • Speaking very quietly
  • Speaking in a raspy, gravelly, or hoarse voice
  • Distorting sounds when speaking
  • Frequent pauses between words
  • Speaking very slowly

How are speech disorders diagnosed?

If you believe that you or your child could have a speech disorder, there are numerous steps involved in a speech disorder diagnosis.

The physician will first discuss your medical and academic histories, arrange emotional and intelligence evaluations and evaluate your interactions with them during the examination. They will also suggest hearing and vision testing be performed, before suggesting any specific speech disorder tests be conducted.

Some frequently suggested speech disorder tests include:

  • Denver articulation screening exam
  • Dynamic evaluation of motor speech skills manual (DEMSS)
  • Prosody-voice screen profile
  • Early language milestones scale 2
  • Peabody picture vocabulary test

These tests will help determine if you have a speech disorder, but they won’t necessarily determine the exact causes of your speech disorder. Additional testing may be required to determine the underlying cause of your speech disorder, so that appropriate treatments can be recommended.

How are speech disorders treated?

The type of speech therapy treatments that are recommended for you will normally depend on the severity of your condition, as well as what the doctor has determined the underlying cause of your condition might be.

The most common type of speech therapy treatment is speech therapy, which focuses on exercises to build familiarity with using certain sounds or words. This could also involve physical exercises designed to strengthen muscles that allow us to produce sounds.

Alternatively, there are other treatments that could be suggested, depending on your condition. Some of these include:

  • Contrast therapy
  • Target selection therapy
  • Oral-motor therapy
  • Contextual utilization therapy
  • Ear devices (to replay an altered version of the wearer’s voice, or provide a sound that helps control stuttering)
  • Medications (to treat anxiety brought on by speech disorders, which could worsen symptoms)

Some speech disorders may go away on their own or lessen with time. This is especially true in children. However, some speech disorders may never go away, and require a long-term or lifelong treatment to manage symptoms.

Can I talk to someone on Maple about a speech disorder?

Absolutely! A General Practitioner on Maple would be happy to chat with you about your challenges and guide you towards testing that could help provide a diagnosis for your condition. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a speech disorder, your healthcare provider will be able to suggest treatment options to help you manage your symptoms.

You can also use Maple to schedule a consultation with a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist to speak with an expert from the comfort of your own home.

If you believe you or your child may have a speech disorder, don’t hesitate. Speech disorders can have a negative impact on your daily life, but there are options available. Speak with a provider on Maple today.

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