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What are Some Types of Speech and Language Disorders
Authors: Saraswathy Ramamoorthy with Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE

Delayed language

Children with delayed language learn words and grammar much more slowly than other children. There are many reasons for delays in speech and language. Hearing loss is a common reason. A child who cannot hear well or at all will have trouble learning, copying, and understanding language. Speech delays may also be caused by what is called “oral-motor” problems. Oral-motor problems are difficulties with using the lips, tongue, and jaw to make speech sounds. Sometimes these problems start in the areas of the brain that are responsible for speech and language development.

Children are different from each other in the way they develop. Some are faster, and some are slower, but they might all be developing normally. It is hard to tell if there is a real language delay. There are some guidelines about children’s speech and language skills that will help you decide if the child is delayed. These are known as “developmental milestones.” You and the parents may want to look at a checklist to see if a child’s speech and language skills are developing on schedule.

Articulation disorders

Articulation means making sounds and words. To do this, the lips, teeth, tongue, jaw, and palate (roof of the mouth) need to move together to make shapes. They change the movement of the air that comes from the vocal chords. That is how people make sounds, syllables, and words. A child has an articulation disorder when he makes sounds, syllables, and words incorrectly. The listeners do not understand what he is saying.

There are three types of articulation disorders. They are called omissions, substitutions, or distortions. Omission means leaving something out. An example of a speech omission is saying “at” for “hat” or “oo” for “shoe.” Substitution means putting something where something else belongs. An example of a speech substitution is the use of “w” for “r” and saying “wabbit” for “rabbit.” Another example is using “th” for “s” and saying “thun” for “sun.” Distortion means that the parts are mostly there, but they are a little wrong. The child says a word that sounds something like what it should, but it is not quite right. An example is “shlip” for “ship.”

Articulation disorders are not the same as “baby talk.” It is important to know the difference. Baby talk happens in young children who mispronounce words. That is normal and not a disorder. In older children it is no longer cute. Articulation problems then get in the way of good communication. Sometimes a different accent may be confused with articulation problems. An accent is a problem for a child only if it gets in the way of the child’s communication. As a general rule, a child should be able to make all the sounds of English by the age of 8.

Articulation problems may come from:
   • Physical handicaps such as cerebral palsy, cleft palate, or dental problems
   • Hearing loss
   • Incorrect speech and language models for a child

More information


Stuttering is when speech does not flow smoothly. It is interrupted by:
   • Stopping in the middle (no sound comes out at all)
   • Repeating sounds (for example, st-st-strong)
   • Holding a sound or syllable for a long time (for example, sssssssstrong)

When children stutter, they often blink their eyes quickly. Their lips might shake, or they might move in another way that shows they are struggling to get the word out. “Stuttering” is the same as “stammering;” the words mean the same thing.

Most children stutter a little when they learn to talk. It is most common in children between the ages of 2 and 6. They are just starting to develop their language and speech skills. Boys are three times more likely to stutter than girls. Stuttering when learning language is natural and common. Most children outgrow it.

Some children may stutter more in certain situations. They may stutter when they have to speak in front of many people or speak on the telephone. Some children who stutter may not do so when they talk to themselves or when they sing.

Stuttering may be caused by:
   • Developmental causes
Developmental stuttering happens when a child is learning to talk. He cannot find the words that
     he wants to say as fast as he thinks. This type of stuttering is normal. It goes away as the child grows.

   • Neurogenic causes (causes that start in the nervous system) –Stuttering may be caused by problems in the brain,
     nerves, or muscles. The part of the brain that is responsible for speech and language development may be damaged by a
     stroke or by a head injury. The muscles that are responsible for forming sounds and words may be damaged.

   • Psychogenic causes (causes that start in the way a person thinks or feels) – Stuttering may be caused by severe
     damage or stress to the mind. This type of stuttering happens in children with mental illness. Very few children stutter
     because of these causes.

   • Hereditary causes – Stuttering may run in the family and be passed to a child from her parents. Some experts disagree
     with this theory.

How experts identify stuttering

How stuttering is treated

Organizations that deal with stuttering

More information

Voice disorders

A voice disorder happens because the vocal cords that produce sound are damaged. The vocal cords are the muscles in the throat that are responsible for making sounds and words. Children can damage their vocal cords by shouting, screaming, and talking extremely loudly and very often. Their voice may become harsh and they may find it very difficult to talk. Also, when they try to talk, their throat may hurt a lot. Voice disorders are sometimes called “voice abuse.”

Voice disorders in children can be corrected with speech therapy. In speech therapy, children are taught to speak softly. They are also taught not to scream, shout, or do anything that may hurt their vocal cords and affect their voice. Remember that children like to copy what the adults around them do. So if they see you speaking loudly or shouting, they will do the same. Practice speaking softly so that the children around you will do the same.

Voice disorders are not common in children. Also, they are usually temporary.

More information


Aphasia is a language disorder. It is caused by injury to those parts of the brain that are responsible for language. This is mostly the left side of the brain. Aphasia may be caused suddenly, perhaps from a stroke or a head injury, or it may develop slowly, perhaps from a brain tumor.

Aphasia affects the way children talk and the way they understand what others are saying. It weakens a child’s ability to read and write.

Aphasia is very rare in children.

More information

Go to:   • Identification and evaluation of speech-language disorders

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

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