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Speech And Language Disorders

Language and Speech Disorders

Language and speech disorders affect a person's ability to interact and communicate with others. These disorders range from mild to severe and may be present at any age. They can arise in childhood or be acquired later in life through illness, accident, surgery, and many other situations.

Individuals who have language disorders may not understand spoken and written words well. They may have difficulty forming words and sentences to express ideas. Language disorders often accompany learning disabilities, autism, hearing loss, head injury, stroke, trauma, depression, and drug use. Some people try to hide language disorders. Others, particularly children, may be unaware of the disorders.

Individuals who have speech disorders may speak with distorted sounds, with distracting voice quality, or with blocking and repetitive sounds of stuttering. They may have difficulty speaking or reading aloud. They may also have language disorders. However, many people who have speech disorders have no problem understanding or thinking.

Ways to Help

  • Listen patiently to efforts to communicate. Concentrate on what the person is saying, not on how he or she is saying it. Show respect for contributions.
  • Look for facial, hand, and other responses. Speech is not the only method of communication.
  • Speak clearly and not too rapidly so the person can understand you.
  • Don't be afraid to say you didn't understand what someone said. Let the person know you will take time to make sure you understand.
  • Realize that speech abilities may vary with changes in mood, health, and stress and that they can improve. As a person experiences successes and develops competence, he or she will likely become more willing to speak.

Teaching Tips

For Language and Speech Disorders

  • Help members feel comfortable participating in class. Some members may be unable to speak at all, but they may be willing to share written passages or pictures they have drawn that relate to the activity.
  • Use many pictures, photographs, objects, and other visual aids. Consider music, role playing, and the buddy system (a partner assigned to assist when needed).

For Language Disorders

  • Ask questions that you are sure the person can answer. Try stating a question and then giving the person a few minutes to think about a response. Continue the discussion and come back to the person after he or she has had time to organize an answer.
  • Find a way to communicate. If a person cannot speak, a language board may be helpful. This is a board or a notebook that has pictures, symbols, or letters to which a person can point to communicate the message. (See Julie Wardell and Lynn Applegate, "Say It with Pictures,Friend, Aug. 1988, 22.)
  • Learn some simple sign language.

For Speech Disorders

  • Explain privately to the rest of the class about the importance of providing a supportive environment that is free from teasing and pressure. Some who stutter may be unable to speak at all in a stressful situation, even though speaking may be easy in other less-threatening circumstances.
  • Avoid asking a person who stutters to slow down or start over. This tends to make the situation worse.
  • Avoid supplying words or finishing sentences for the person.