Speech or Language Impairments
Prevalence, Definitions, and Characteristics
Individuals classified with speech or language impairments make up 18.6% of all students ages 6–21 served under IDEA, and represent 1.65% of the school-age population. Speech is the system of forming and producing sounds that are the basis of language, while language is considered the system of communicating ideas. Most students receiving speech and language therapy work individually or in small groups with a specialist for brief sessions several times a week and usually spend the remainder of their day in general education classes. In some schools, speech and language teachers may conduct therapy sessions in the general education classroom (Owens, Metz, & Haas, 2003).
Some students with speech and language disorders may have another primary disability area, such as a learning disability, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, or other severe disabilities. The latter groups are more likely to be using Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices to help them communicate.
Examples and Characteristics of Speech Disorders
Speech disorders may exist as voice, articulation, or fluency disorders. Voice disorders affect volume, pitch, flexibility, and quality of voice and affect about 3% to 6% of school-age children (Owens, Metz, & Haas, 2003). Examples of voice disorders include speech that is chronically strained, hoarse, breathy, or nasal. In the most severe instances, voice is not present at all.
Articulation disorders represent the largest subgroup of communication disorders (about 75%), and include difficulty pronouncing words, including omissions (“libary” for “library”), additions (“terribubble” for “terrible”), distortions (such as lisping), and substitutions (e.g., “tram” for “clam”). A child with articulation problems might say, “wabbits aw fuwwy animals.”
Fluency disorders are interruptions in the natural flow or rhythm of speech. A common fluency disorder is stuttering, “an involuntary repetition, prolongation or blockage of a word or part of a word that a person is trying to say” (Curlee, 1989, p. 8). Most people who stutter begin stuttering before age 5, but only after they have begun to speak in sentences (Curlee, 1989).
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