More than 6% of all adults in the United States have speech difficulties thatinvolve articulation, language, voice, fluency, hearing, or swallowing. In addition, 5% of all children exhibit impaired speech, language, or hearing. Many of these individuals can be helped by speech therapy.
Speech and language disorders affect the way people speak to and understand each other. These disorders may range from problems with simple sounds to notbeing able to speak or use language at all. Speech and language disorders include stuttering, characterized by interruptions in the regular flow or rhythmof speech; articulation disorders, involving difficulties in forming or stringing sounds together; voice disorders, characterized by inappropriate voicepitch, loudness, or quality; aphasia, or the loss of speech and language abilities resulting from stroke or head injury; and delayed language disorder, characterized by slow development of the vocabulary and grammar required to express and understand thoughts and ideas.
Speech and language disorders are serious because the ability to communicateis in large part what makes us human. Without the ability to communicate, itis impossible to learn, work, or engage in social interactions.
Unfortunately, there is no single cause of speech and language disorders. These disorders may arise from hearing loss, cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular disorders, severe head injury, stroke, viral disease, mental retardation,certain drugs, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate, vocal abuseor misuse, or inadequate speech and language models. The causes of a disorder may vary with the age and gender of the affected person. They may also depend on specific characteristics of the symptom. In some cases, it is not possible to determine the cause.
Indications that a person might be suffering from a speech and language disorder could include marked differences in that person's speech compared to thatof others of the same age, sex, or ethnic group; difficulties on the part ofothers to understand that person's speech or language; that person becomes overly concerned with his or her own speech; or that person's avoidance of communication with others.
Speech-language pathologists, or speech therapists, specialize in human communication, its development, and its disorders. They are professionally trainedto evaluate and treat persons with speech and language disorders.
The pathologist will have either a master's degree or doctoral degree in speech-language pathology, and he or she may also hold a Certificate of ClinicalCompetence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Some statesalso require licensing.
Methods of treating the disorder will depend upon the nature and severity ofthe problem, the age of the individual, and the individual's awareness of theproblem. The speech-language pathologist typically employs specialized professional services that may include help with the production of speech sounds (articulation disorders); the development of proper voice production (voice disorders); the production of fluent speech and help coping with the inabilityto produce such speech (stuttering); and the compensation for lost language and speech skills and the relearning of language, speech skills, and sentenceorder (aphasia).
Speech therapists also help clients and their families come to understand thedisorder and learn to communicate normally in educational, social, and worksettings. They also provide advice on ways to help prevent speech and language disorders. Speech therapists may be found in a number of facilities, including public and private schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, community clinics, colleges and universities, private offices, state andlocal health departments, and state and federal government offices.