Health & Fitness

Speech impairment – causes, symptoms, types and therapy

Why can’t my kid talk? 

There’s nothing more heart-breaking than noticing your child cannot talk. Speech is the process of producing sounds that convey a meaning when put together. When someone has a speech disorder, they cannot produce sounds that create words. Speech is essential for human beings because it’s the primary way to communicate their feelings, thoughts, and ideas. But the act of speaking requires not only the ability to utter words but also the coordination of other body parts like the abdomen, chest, neck and head. 

Speech-language pathologists can confirm your suspicion, that your child has difficulties in speaking, and tell you what the causes that triggered the condition and the treatment to improve or cure it are. 

But if your child is only two or three, it may be challenging even for an expert to tell you exactly why your child isn’t talking. They prefer to err on the side of caution and not label your child as delayed in speaking until they’re not sure what the extent of the problem is. It isn’t easy to pinpoint the diagnosis for the first couple of visits with a toddler. Still, there are some common communication difficulties children experience at this age, and we put them together to ease your research. 

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Causes of speech disorders

The list of triggers of speech disorders is more extensive than the following one, but these are the most common ones. 

– Hearing loss

– Damaged vocal cords

– Brain damage

– Muscle weakness

– Autism

– Down syndrome

– A degenerative disease

Children can cumulate some risk factors that increase the likelihood of them developing a speech and language problem. Having a family history of speech disorders, being male, being born prematurely, having a low weight at birth or experiencing a condition that affects the throat, nose or ears can make children more likely to have a speech impairment. 

Symptoms

Each speech disorder has its symptoms, but most of the children experience one or more of the following. You should know that sometimes children can have multiple speech disorders with different symptoms. 

Pay attention if your kid speaks very softly, uses a hoarse or raspy voice, struggles to say a sound or word correctly, cannot pronounce words correctly, rearranges syllables, adds syllables or sounds to terms, distorts sounds, or prolongs or repeats sounds. 

When they show one or more of the above symptoms for an extended period, contact a speech language pathologist because they are healthcare professionals specialised in speech and language disorders. They will evaluate your child for groups of signs that indicate one condition, evaluate their medical history, and check the family’s history. They also run a physical exam to examine the way the child moves their tongue, jaw, and lips and if the muscles of the mouth and throat are adequately evolved. 

Depending on the diagnose the symptoms indicate, they can even use methods like Denver articulation screening, prosody-voice careening, and dynamic evaluation of motor speech skills to identify the condition your kid struggles with. 

Common speech disorders

Speech conditions affect not only children but people of all ages. The most common disorders are stuttering, apraxia, and dysarthria. 

Stuttering is the term used to describe a speech disorder that interrupts the patient’s flow of speech. Your child may suffer from stuttering if they involuntary repeat words, sounds or vowels, block when they know they cannot utter specific sounds, or stretch or draw out particular sounds and words. 

Stuttering symptoms differ from a patient to another but frustration, excitement or stress can make them more severe. You may notice your children no longer stutter when they pronounce the same sound or word repeatedly. Stuttering is often accompanied by symptoms like clenched fists, the tension in the body and face, lip tremors, rapid blinking or sudden head movements. 

There are two types of stuttering, developmental and neurogenic. The first type affects kids who are acquiring speech and language aptitudes. Often, genetic factors can boost the possibility of a child to develop this condition. The second type occurs when the patient’s brain prevents the coordination between the brain areas that power speech. 

Apraxia is a general term used to refer to brain damage that prevents the individual from using their skills. Verbal apraxia refers to the impairment of the skills that allow an individual to form words and sentences. 

Your child’s brain controls all their actions, including speaking. The brain’s involvement in most of the activities the body is automatic and unconscious. When they try to talk, the brain sends a signal to each of the structures that produce sounds and words, to tell them how and when to move. But when the brain is damaged, it fails to complete these operations. 

Dysarthria

When someone experiences brain damage that causes weakness in their facial muscles, they suffer from dysarthria. When the muscles of the chest, throat, tongue or lips are weak, people find it challenging to speak. The ones suffering from this condition also have symptoms like mumbling, slurred speech, soft or quiet speech, and difficult to move their tongue or mouth. 

Sometimes children suffer from phonological disorders

When children have a phonological condition, they find it challenging to understand the patterns and rules behind combining sounds, and their speech is often unintelligible. Sometimes they delete the prevocalic consonant. For example, your child may say at instead of hat. Or they may reduce syllables in multisyllabic words so that they may say bay instead of baby. Often, they reduplicate or simplify a multisyllabic expression to a duplicated pattern like dog dog for doggie

The right treatment for your child highly depends on the type and severity of the disorder they experience and its underlying triggers. Most treatments include speech therapy that implies performing speech exercises focused on the symptoms of the disease and physical activities that strengthen their muscles and body to help them produce sounds easier. 

It’s crucial to take your children to an expert the moment you notice symptoms because these issues affect their self-esteem and quality of life. With proper treatment, they can reduce symptoms and improve their skills. 

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