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Some Things Are Hard to Say: What to Know About Speech Disorders?

Speech refers to the way humans create specific sounds to convey meaning. In the simplest of sense, speech is how we say things. Articulation, voice, and fluency can all affect your speech. Any problem with one or more of these, and you might have yourself a speech disorder.

From unconscious stuttering to being unable to roll your R’s, speech disorders can hinder our way of communication. Speaking is how a lot of us interact from a day-to-day basis. When it comes to words, all precautions should be made to make sure we are saying what we want, when we want to.

What Are the Types of Speech Disorders?

There are multiple types of speech disorders, each caused by different problems depending on the person and their circumstances. Here are some of the most common types of speech disorders:


Stuttering is one of the most recognizable speech disorders. It’s a fluency disorder that usually begins at a young age and can persist throughout a person’s lifetime. Stuttering can be easily identified by these characteristics:

  • Involuntary repetition of sounds or syllables while speaking.
  • Abrupt stops while speaking.
  • Difficulty producing sounds necessary for speech.
  • Extended syllables or prolongation of certain words.

Certain factors can increase the severity of stutters, such as the person’s emotions or situation. Stuttering can also be distinguished into two types. Developmental stutters are usually found in children who are still developing their speech and language skills, while neurogenic stutters occur when the brain cannot coordinate with body regions crucial for speech generation like the mouth.


Like all parts of the body, the brain controls the parts of the body necessary for speech. When a person speaks, the brain subconsciously sends signals to the different regions of the body necessary to produce sounds. Perfect coordination between these regions allows the person to say words.

Apraxia is a general condition in which brain damage impedes a person’s motor skills. Apraxia of speech, also known as verbal apraxia, occurs when brain damage affects the parts required from speech generation. Even when the individual knows how to say the word, apraxia may inhibit their ability to properly enunciate certain words.


Unlike apraxia, dysarthria happens when brain damage makes the necessary speech muscles too weak to produce proper speech or make speaking difficult in general. Dysarthria is mostly present in people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries or strokes.

Selective Mutism

Speech disorders can also be caused by emotions. Selective mutism, in particular, is an anxiety disorder in which a person finds difficulty speaking in a social setting. These can also be reflected in certain phobias or other mental conditions.

Receptive Disorders

Receptive disorders are mainly sensory problems found in an individual. If a person has trouble listening or hearing certain words or sounds, they may not be able to reproduce them clearly or correctly. After all, people learn words through repetition and examples, so an incorrect perception may ingrain an incorrect pronunciation.

What Are the Symptoms to Look Out For?

Speech disorders are easily noticeable, but not always identifiable. However, when it comes to speech disorders, it’s best to seek out professional help even when you don’t necessarily know what the specific problems are.

Depending on the context of a person’s situation, their symptoms may vary widely and can have different levels of severity. Here are some symptoms to look out for when trying to figure out if one of your loved ones is experiencing a speech disorder:

  • Syllable repetition
  • Distorted speech
  • Slurs
  • Rearranging syllables
  • Soft speech
  • Talking with a raspy voice
  • Tensioned talking
  • Adding syllables or sounds to words

Speech disorders can be incredibly frustrating to both the speaker and the listener. If you find something wrong, try to reach out to an expert as soon as you can to help make communication easier for your loved one.

What Causes Speech Disorders?

Speech disorders can be caused by multiple factors. For young children, they may just be experiencing some developmental delays but can catch up eventually if given the right amount of care. For adults, accidents or injuries may be the cause of inhibited speech.

Here are some physical causes of speech disorders:

  • Throat damage
  • Vocal cord problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stroke
  • Brain damage
  • Respiratory weakness

Certain medical and mental conditions can also greatly affect a person’s speech. Here are some that can cause speech disorders:

  • Dementia
  • Oral cancer
  • Autism
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Speech disorders can be genetic or developed over time. Make sure to check your loved one’s lineage and be wary of any speech disorders that may plague their family.

How Are Speech Disorders Diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks you may have any speech disorder, they may refer you to a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) for proper diagnosis.

An SLP would conduct different tests and evaluate the person’s symptoms. For proper diagnosis, they would have to make sure to rule out other speech and language disorders and other medical conditions. They would also review the person’s medical and family history to see if any symptoms are hereditary.

They may also inspect speech-generating regions of your body, including the mouth, tongue, jaws, lips, and muscles around the mouth.

Here are some methods SLPs use to evaluate speech disorders:

  • Denver articulation screening examination tests the clarity of a person’s speech.
  • The Prosody-voice screen profile examines the aspects and nuances of a person’s speech, including intonation, phrasing, speech patterns, and dynamics.
  • Dynamic evaluation of motor speech skills manual is a reference used by SLPs to diagnose speech disorders.
  • Revised Peabody picture vocabulary test measures the vocabulary and speech of a person by asking them to select a picture that they feel corresponds to words said being said to them.

How Are Speech Disorders Treated?

Treatment mainly depends on the disorder and its severity. Mild speech disorders may not need any treatment if it doesn’t necessarily hinder the intelligibility of their speech. Other disorders may simply disappear over time after regular practice.

For more serious cases, the SLP may make the person undergo speech therapy or do certain exercises to treat certain symptoms. Speech therapy can help a person get used to producing certain sounds, while physical and breathing exercises can help strengthen the body parts and muscles needed for speech.

Here are some ways SLPs treat their patient’s speech disorder:

  • Target Selection involves repetitive practicing of certain sounds to familiarize themselves with the correct pattern and fluency.
  • Contextual utilization helps people recognize sounds in different syllable-based context.
  • Contrast therapy utilizes word pairs that have one or more different sounds.
  • Oral-motor therapy focuses on treating body parts used for speech.
  • Medication may help alleviate the speech altering effects of certain medical conditions.

The Bottom-line

People who have speech disorders may feel uncomfortable about their situation at first. Emotions such as embarrassment or nervousness could pop up if these disorders are viewed negatively in a social context. Thankfully, this isn’t the case if you seek professional help sooner rather than later.

With the right help, exercise, and outlook in life, you’ll be expressing yourself fluently in no time.