Speech and Language Disorders
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
A speech and language disorder can take the form of a problem in speech production or language usage. A speech problem usually refers to a problem in articulating sounds (for example, the “r” sound) or saying words correctly such that the listener may have trouble understanding the speaker. It may also include a problem with speech fluency such as stuttering.
Students with articulation problems are often self-conscious about their speech, which may affect their social confidence. In addition, preschoolers with speech problems may be prone to behavioral problems because of frustration expressing themselves. As a result, early intervention is often critical with children with speech problems.
A language disorder can involve a problem with receptive language in which a person has difficulty processing language. As an example, students with receptive language problems may have trouble understanding directions from the teacher. A language problem may also include a problem in expressive language in which an individual has trouble putting his thoughts into words in an appropriate manner.
If you have a child who you suspect may have a speech or language disorder, your public school is an important resource. Most public school districts have speech-language therapists to help students with these problems. You can request these services by calling your child’s school and requesting a “screening” or evaluation by the speech-language therapist.
If the therapist does an evaluation of your child, request to meet with her to find out the results. She will help you determine whether the problem is developmental, indicating that in time it will correct itself as many speech problems do, or whether it requires therapy. If speech therapy is warranted, the speech-language therapist will work with your child either on a one-to-one basis or in a small group. The teacher may also play a role in helping your child but her role is not to treat the speech problem but rather to give her experience and confidence speaking in class.
If the therapist identifies a problem, find out what you can do at home with your child to help your child. Whatever you do, make sure to not draw attention to his speech difficulties or frequently correct his errors. It is more helpful to focus more on what he has said rather than how he has said it. Frequently talking about or trying to fix his speech will likely discourage him from talking.
A child with speech problems may have trouble accessing the right words and as a result may need additional time to express his thoughts. If so, be patient with your child and give him more time to answer after asking questions.