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ViewGrant County Schools
Crittenden Mt. Zion Elementary
270 Crittenden-Mt. Zion Road
Dry Ridge, KY 41035
Phone: 859-428-2171
Fax: 859-428-1890

Speech and Language Development

Speech and Language Development

Speech and language are tools that humans use to communicate or share thoughts, ideas, and emotions.  The most intensive period of speech and language development for humans is during the first three years of life, a period when the brain is developing and maturing. These skills appear to develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others. There is increasing evidence suggesting that there are "critical periods" for speech and language development in infants and young children. This means that the developing brain is best able to absorb a language, any language, during this period. The ability to learn a language will be more difficult, and perhaps less efficient or effective, if these critical periods are allowed to pass without early exposure to a language.

Children vary in their development of speech and language. There is, however, a natural progression or "timetable" for mastery of these skills for each language. The milestones are identifiable skills that can serve as a guide to normal development. Typically, simple skills need to be reached before the more complex skills can be learned. There is a general age and time when most children pass through these periods. These milestones help doctors and other health professionals determine when a child may need extra help to learn to speak or to use language.

NIH Publication No. 00-4781
April 2000

What are articulation disorders? 

Most children make some mistakes as they learn to say new words. A speech sound disorder occurs when mistakes continue past a certain age. Every sound has a different range of ages when the child should make the sound correctly. Speech sound disorders include problems with articulation (making sounds) and phonological processes (sound patterns). 

What are some signs of an articulation disorder?

An articulation disorder involves problems making sounds. Sounds can be substituted, left off, added or changed. These errors may make it hard for people to understand you. 

Young children often make speech errors. For instance, many young children sound like they are making a "w" sound for an "r" sound (e.g., "wabbit" for "rabbit") or may leave sounds out of words, such as "nana" for "banana." The child may have an articulation disorder if these errors continue past the expected age.

Not all sound substitutions and omissions are speech errors. Instead, they may be related to a feature of a dialect or accent. For example, speakers of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) may use a "d" sound for a "th" sound (e.g., "dis" for "this"). This is not a speech sound disorder, but rather one of the phonological features of AAVE.

What are some signs of a phonological disorder?

A phonological process disorder involves patterns of sound errors. For example, substituting all sounds made in the back of the mouth like "k" and "g" for those in the front of the mouth like "t" and "d" (e.g., saying "tup" for "cup" or "das" for "gas"). 

Another rule of speech is that some words start with two consonants, such as broken or spoon. When children don't follow this rule and say only one of the sounds ("boken" for broken or "poon" for spoon), it is more difficult for the listener to understand the child. While it is common for young children learning speech to leave one of the sounds out of the word, it is not expected as a child gets older. If a child continues to demonstrate such cluster reduction, he or she may have a phonological process disorder.

Note:  Sometimes, more severe articulation disorders may fall under the label of "Childhood Apraxia of Speech".  Click on the related link at the bottom of the page for more information concerning this topic.

How are speech sound disorders diagnosed?

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is the professional that evaluates children or adults with speech and language difficulties. The SLP listens to the person and may use a formal articulation test to record sound errors. An oral mechanism examination is also done to determine whether the muscles of the mouth are working correctly. The SLP may recommend speech treatment if the sound is not appropriate for the child's age or if it is not a feature of a dialect or accent. For children, the SLP often also evaluates their language development to determine overall communication functioning. 

What treatments are available for people with speech sound disorders? 

SLPs provide treatment to improve articulation of individual sounds or reduce errors in production of sound patterns.   

Articulation treatment may involve demonstrating how to produce the sound correctly, learning to recognize which sounds are correct and incorrect, and practicing sounds in different words. Phonological process treatment may involve teaching the rules of speech to individuals to help them say words correctly.  

Stuttering affects the fluency of speech. It begins during childhood and, in some cases, lasts throughout life. The disorder is characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also called "disfluencies." Most people produce brief disfluencies from time to time. For instance, some words are repeated and others are preceded by "um" or "uh." Disfluencies are not necessarily a problem; however, they can impede communication when a person produces too many of them.

In most cases, stuttering has an impact on at least some daily activities. The specific activities that a person finds challenging to perform vary across individuals. For some people, communication difficulties only happen during specific activities, for example, talking on the telephone or talking before large groups. For most others, however, communication difficulties occur across a number of activities at home, school, or work. Some people may limit their participation in certain activities. Such "participation restrictions" often occur because the person is concerned about how others might react to disfluent speech. Other people may try to hide their disfluent speech from others by rearranging the words in their sentence (circumlocution), pretending to forget what they wanted to say, or declining to speak. Other people may find that they are excluded from participating in certain activities because of stuttering. Clearly, the impact of stuttering on daily life can be affected by how the person and others react to the disorder.

What are signs and symptoms of stuttering?

Stuttered speech often includes repetitions of words or parts of words, as well as prolongations of speech sounds. These disfluencies occur more often in persons who stutter than they do in the general population. Some people who stutter appear very tense or "out of breath" when talking. Speech may become completely stopped or blocked. Blocked is when the mouth is positioned to say a sound, sometimes for several seconds, with little or no sound forthcoming. After some effort, the person may complete the word. Interjections such as "um" or "like" can occur, as well, particularly when they contain repeated ("u- um- um") or prolonged ("uuuum") speech sounds or when they are used intentionally to delay the initiation of a word the speaker expects to "get stuck on."

Some examples of stuttering include:

  • "W- W- W- Where are you going?" (Part-word repetition: The person is having difficulty moving from the "w" in "where" to the remaining sounds in the word. On the fourth attempt, he successfully completes the word.)
  • "SSSSave me a seat." (Sound prolongation: The person is having difficulty moving from the "s" in "save" to the remaining sounds in the word. He continues to say the "s" sound until he is able to complete the word.)
  • "I'll meet you – um um you know like – around six o'clock." (A series of interjections: The person expects to have difficulty smoothly joining the word "you" with the word "around." In response to the anticipated difficulty, he produces several interjections until he is able to say the word "around" smoothly.)

How is stuttering diagnosed?

Identifying stuttering in an individual's speech would seem like an easy task. Disfluencies often "stand out" and disrupt a person's communication. Listeners can usually detect when a person is stuttering. At the same time, however, stuttering can affect more than just a person's observable speech. Some characteristics of stuttered speech are not as easy for listeners to detect. As a result, diagnosing stuttering requires the skills of a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP).

During an evaluation, an SLP will note the number and types of speech disfluencies a person produces in various situations. The SLP will also assess the ways in which the person reacts to and copes with disfluencies. The SLP may also gather information about factors such as teasing that may make the problem worse. A variety of other assessments (e.g., speech rate, language skills) may be completed as well, depending upon the person's age and history. Information about the person is then analyzed to determine whether a fluency disorder exists. If so, the extent to which it affects the ability to perform and participate in daily activities is determined.

For young children, it is important to predict whether the stuttering is likely to continue. An evaluation consists of a series of tests, observations, and interviews designed to estimate the child's risk for continuing to stutter. Although there is some disagreement among SLPs about which risk factors are most important to consider, factors that are noted by many specialists include the following:

  • a family history of stuttering
  • stuttering that has continued for 6 months or longer
  • presence of other speech or language disorders
  • strong fears or concerns about stuttering on the part of the child or the family

No single factor can be used to predict whether a child will continue to stutter. The combination of these factors can help SLPs determine whether treatment is indicated.

For older children and adults, the question of whether stuttering is likely to continue is somewhat less important, because the stuttering has continued at least long enough for it to become a problem in the person's daily life. For these individuals, an evaluation consists of tests, observations, and interviews that are designed to assess the overall severity of the disorder. In addition, the impact the disorder has on the person's ability to communicate and participate appropriately in daily activities is evaluated. Information from the evaluation is then used to develop a specific treatment program, one that is designed to:

  • help the individual speak more fluently,
  • communicate more effectively, and
  • participate more fully in life activities.

What treatments are available for stuttering?

Most treatment programs for people who stutter are "behavioral." They are designed to teach the person specific skills or behaviors that lead to improved oral communication. For instance, many SLPs teach people who stutter to control and/or monitor the rate at which they speak. In addition, people may learn to start saying words in a slightly slower and less physically tense manner. They may also learn to control or monitor their breathing. When learning to control speech rate, people often begin by practicing smooth, fluent speech at rates that are much slower than typical speech, using short phrases and sentences. Over time, people learn to produce smooth speech at faster rates, in longer sentences, and in more challenging situations until speech sounds both fluent and natural. "Follow-up" or "maintenance" sessions are often necessary after completion of formal intervention to prevent relapse.

What can I do to communicate better with people who stutter?

 

Often, people are unsure about how to respond when talking to people who stutter. This uncertainty can cause listeners to do things like look away during moments of stuttering, interrupt the person, fill in words, or simply not talk to people who stutter. None of these reactions is particularly helpful, though. In general, people who stutter want to be treated just like anybody else. They are very aware that their speech is different and that it takes them longer to say things. Unfortunately, though, this sometimes leads the person to feel pressure to speak quickly. Under such conditions, people who stutter often have even more difficultly saying what they want to say in a smooth, timely manner. Therefore, listeners who appear impatient or annoyed may actually make it harder for people who stutter to speak.

When talking with people who stutter, the best thing to do is give them the time they need to say what they want to say. Try not to finish sentences or fill in words for them. Doing so only increases the person's sense of time pressure. Also, suggestions like "slow down," "relax," or "take a deep breath" can make the person feel even more uncomfortable because these comments suggest that stuttering should be simple to overcome, but it's not!

Of course, different people who stutter will have different ways of handling their speaking difficulties. Some will be comfortable talking about it with you, while others will not. In general, however, it can be quite helpful to simply ask the person what would be the most helpful way to respond to his or her stuttering. You might say something like, "I noticed that you stutter. Can you tell me how you prefer for people to respond when you stutter?" Often, people will appreciate your interest. You certainly don't want to talk down to them or treat them differently just because they stutter. However, you can still try to find a matter-of-fact, supportive way to let them know that you are interested in what they are saying, rather than how they're saying it. This can go a long way toward reducing awkwardness, uncertainty, or tension in the situation and make it easier for both parties to communicate effectively.


What is a language disorder?

A language disorder is an impairment in the ability to understand and/or use words in context, both verbally and nonverbally. Some characteristics of language disorders include improper use of words and their meanings, inability to express ideas, inappropriate grammatical patterns, reduced vocabulary and inability to follow directions. One or a combination of these characteristics may occur in children who are affected by language learning disabilities or developmental language delay. Children may hear or see a word but not be able to understand its meaning. They may have trouble getting others to understand what they are trying to communicate.

How Does a Language Disorder Affect A Child's Education?

Even mild problems in spoken language can have an impact on learning in school. A child should enter first grade with the majority of the language needed for learning. Problems in understanding language will affect almost every aspect of school: following directions, learning vocabulary, understanding instruction, reading comprehension, etc. Problems in using language are often seen in children who do not understand. Some children understand spoken language but have difficulty expressing themselves. A common problem seen in expressive language is difficulty recalling words they know (word retrieval problems). These children understand the word, know it when they hear it, but cannot always call it up when they need it. These children may say, "you know that thing you sweep the floor with"; "I know it, but I can't think of the word"; "Umm,umm, I forget"; etc. Retrieval problems can make children unwilling to participate in class because they interfere with a child's demonstration of what he/she has learned. For example, children may have learned color or letter names, but are unable to give the names when asked. These children can point to the color or letter when the name is said to them.

Some children have difficulty with spoken grammar. They omit words or word endings or get words in the wrong order. Some have difficulty putting their ideas into words in an organized way.

What Can Be Done About a Language Disorder?

It is important to have children's language evaluated if there is any concern. Too often, parents are told "he'll outgrow it" or "just wait, she'll talk when she's ready". This is not good advice when the child is not doing what is expected for his/her age. Speech-language pathologists can determine what the problem is, if any, and make recommendations for working with the child. Oral language is important for social development and effective communication, as well as being the foundation for school learning. Problems should not be overlooked or disregarded.


Will hearing problems affect speech and language development?

Yes. The first years of life are particularly important for learning speech and language. Even mild hearing losses may cause children to miss much of the speech and language around them and result in critical developmental delays. Parents should make sure that their children receive a regular hearing evaluation from an audiologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), particularly if there is a history of ear infections, frequent colds or other upper respiratory infections, or allergies.

©1997-2007 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

 

Voice is the sound made by air passing from your lungs through your larynx, or voice box. In your larynx are your vocal cords, two bands of muscle that vibrate to make sound. For most of us, our voices play a big part in who we are, what we do and how we communicate. Like fingerprints, each person's voice is unique.

Many things we do can injure our vocal cords. Talking too much, screaming, constantly clearing your throat or smoking can make you hoarse. These can also lead to problems such as nodules, polyps and sores on the vocal cords.

Other causes of voice disorders include infections, upward movement of stomach acids into the throat, growths due to a virus, cancer and diseases that paralyze the vocal cords. Treatment for voice disorders varies depending on the cause. Most voice problems can be successfully treated when diagnosed early.

If you suspect that your child has a voice disorder, please seek attention from a qualified medical professional.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

 

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