What’s the difference between speech and language disorders?
Language is the expression and comprehension of ideas. It can take many forms:speaking, writing, gestural communication, sign language, and picture communication systems, to name a few. There are three areas of language: form, content, and use. Form is the sound system and grammar of our language. Content is the meaning of the words we use. Use is the function language serves (requesting, answering, commenting, being social…) Children can have deficits in understanding (receptive delay) and/or in expression (expressive delay) of any or all of the areas of language.
Speech is the act of talking. Speech disorders fall into four main categories:
- Speech sound production (also known as articulation) – This is when a person has difficulty correctly producing the sounds of our language. Some people may have difficulty producing one particular sound, while others may have trouble with multiple sounds. There are many disorders that are a part of this category (apraxia, dysarthria, phonological delay).
- Fluency – This is when a person has trouble producing speech fluently. This is known as stuttering.
- Resonance – This is when a person’s speech is either too nasal or not nasal enough. Often, though not always, this is the result of a cleft palate.
- Voice – This is an abnormality in the quality or pitch of a person’s voice. The voice may be hoarse, breathy, strained, or have inappropriate pitch. Voice disorders most often stem from problems in the larynx, or voice box
Why shouldn’t we just take a wait and see approach?
Speech sounds are more easily corrected when they are treated earlier. The longer a child mispronounces a sound, and therefore words, the more ingrained it becomes, and the harder it is to fix.
From a language standpoint, children must be competent in each of the areas of language in order to be successful in school and in life. A child who has a poor vocabulary will be at a disadvantage when learning to read. Children who leave off grammatical markers (like plurals and past tense) will also leave them off when they write. Children who have difficulty with social language may have trouble making friends or understanding nonverbal language. Speaking, understanding, reading, and writing are critical skills in order for a child to be successful in school and beyond.