Speech and hearing are two of our five senses, and they’re ones that we often take for granted. As many as 1 in 6 Canadians are living with a communication disorder, which can include issues with speech, language and hearing, as well as problems with auditory processing, swallowing and balance disorders. Because communicating is something we do as part of our everyday lives, not having the ability to properly communicate can pose significant challenges – including ones that are physical, social, vocational, as well as emotional.
When it comes to speech and sound disorders, an individual may have difficulty with articulation (also known as the pronunciation) of words. As a result, a number of errors can occur. There may be omissions, for example, in which certain sounds or words are left out. For example, instead of saying “read a book.” A child with a speech and sound disorder may instead say I “ree” a book (leaving out the pronunciation of the letter d), while they may substitute correct words for ones that are incorrect. Individuals may also attempt to say a word properly but have difficulty with the proper pronunciation, which may result in the word sounding distorted (such as sounding slurred or as though the individual has a lisp.) Another very common speech disorder is stuttering, which is when speech and certain words are either repeated or prolonged. Someone with stuttering may also hesitate before speaking, or there may be a disturbance in their rhythm or flow of speech. There are many reasons why speech and sound disorders can occur; they have been linked to cleft palate, hearing loss, brain injuries and neurological disorders. In some instances, the cause of some speech and sound disorders may even be unknown.
Voice disorders can also develop, which can include phonation disorders in which the voice may sound hoarse, raspy, or change in pitch, in addition to resonance disorders in which a voice may sound nasal-y. These particular disorders can be a result of having nodules on the vocal cords, weakness or paralysis of the vocal cords, in addition to having a wide nasopharynx, and may even be caused by allergies.
Language disorders can also have an impact on speech, as well as with writing. Someone with a language disorder may have trouble understanding words and sentences spoken by others, or they may appear to show lack of interest in conversation, have trouble following directions that are spoken to them, and may even have trouble learning (a child in school, for example.) This particular type of disorder is known as a receptive language disorder. There are also expressive language disorders in which someone may have a smaller vocabulary, have trouble forming their words into sentences, or use words inappropriately. Causes of language disorders can include everything from emotional disturbances, cognitive delays, brain injuries, or be of unknown origin.
While anyone can develop a communication disorder, they tend to be more common in children. If your child tends to avoid speaking, appears tense when speaking or trying to speak, does not use full words by the time they reach 12 months (1 year) of age, has trouble combining words together by the age of 2, imitates words instead of following commands/has difficulty following instructions, then these are not necessarily indicators that your child may, for sure, have a type of communication disorder. They are, however, reasons to be concerned. The good news is that many communication disorders can be reversed as long as treatment is sought early on. Initially, you should report any concerns with your child’s communication to your family doctor or to their paediatrician, who will then likely refer your child to a speech-language pathologist or audiologist for further evaluation. Speech-language pathologists and audiologists are specialists who work with individuals of all ages, including children, to not only identify any communication disorders that may be present, but as well as assess and treat those very disorders.
For more on communication disorders and the type of work that speech-language pathologists and audiologists do, visit www.speechandhearing.ca. The month of May is also recognized as Speech and Hearing Month, and you can find out more about how you can get involved in this year’s campaign by clicking here.