Speech and Language Disabilities

  •  Speech and Language Disabilities

         Speech and language impairment is defined as a communication disorder that adversely affects the child's ability to talk, understand, read, and write. This disability category can be divided into two groups: speech impairments and language impairments.

         Speech and language impairments are considered a high-incidence disability. Approximately 20% of children receiving special education services are receiving services for speech and language disorders. This estimate does not include children who receive services for speech and language disorders that are secondary to other conditions such as deafness. More than one-half (55.2%) of all 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds with a disability receive speech and language services.

    Speech Impairments
         There are three basic types of speech impairments: articulation disorders, fluency disorders, and voice disorders.
    Articulation disorders are errors in the production of speech sounds that may be related to anatomical or physiological limitations in the skeletal, muscular, or neuromuscular support for speech production. These disorders include:

    • Omissions: (bo for boat)
    • Substitutions: (wabbit for rabbit)
    • Distortions: (shlip for sip)


    Fluency disorders are difficulties with the rhythm and timing of speech characterized by hesitations, repetitions, or prolongations of sounds, syllables, words, or phrases. Common fluency disorders include:

    • Stuttering: rapid-fire repetitions of consonant or vowel sounds especially at the beginning of words, prolongations, hesitations, interjections, and complete verbal blocks
    • Cluttering: excessively fast and jerky speech

    Voice disorders are problems with the quality or use of one's voice resulting from disorders in the larynx. Voice disorders are characterized by abnormal production and/or absences of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, and/or duration.

    Language Impairments
         There are five basic areas of language impairments: phonological disorders, morphological disorders, semantic disorders, syntactical deficits, and pragmatic difficulties.

    Phonological disorders are defined as the abnormal organization of the phonological system, or a significant deficit in speech production or perception. A child with a phonological disorder may be described as hard to understand or as not saying the sounds correctly. Apraxia of speech is a specific phonological disorder where the student may want to speak but has difficulty planning what to say and the motor movements to use.

    Morphological disorders are defined as difficulties with morphological inflections (inflections on nouns, verbs, and adjectives that signal different kinds of meanings).

    Semantic disorders are characterized by poor vocabulary development, inappropriate use of word meanings, and/or inability to comprehend word meanings. These students will demonstrate restrictions in word meanings, difficulty with multiple word meanings, excessive use of nonspecific terms (e.g., thing and stuff), and indefinite references (e.g., that and there).

    Syntactic deficits are characterized by difficulty in acquiring the rules that govern word order and others aspects of grammar such as subject-verb agreement. Typically, these students produce shorter and less elaborate sentences with fewer cohesive conjunctions than their peers.

    Pragmatic difficulties are characterized as problems in understanding and using language in different social contexts. These students may lack an understanding of the rules for making eye contact, respecting personal space, requesting information, and introducing topics.