Speech disorders occur when a patient (typically a child) has trouble producing certain sounds. They can be broken down into different categories depending on the nature of the problem. Speech disorders include:
- Articulation disorders. The patient has trouble with certain syllables, or pronounces words incorrectly to such an extent that it is extremely difficult to understand what is being said.
- Fluency disorders. These are characterized by interruptions in the normal flow of speech. Stuttering – an abnormal repetition or prolonging of sounds, syllables or words – is the most common fluency disorder.
- Voice disorders. These involve problems with pitch, volume or voice quality.
- Dysphagia. Swallowing disorders, as discussed in a previous section, can cause trouble with speech.
Speech-language pathologists, commonly referred to as speech therapists, are able to evaluate a patient’s speech, language, cognitive, communication and oral/swallowing skills in order to diagnose speech problems.
Treatment, or speech therapy, aims to resolve the issue by focusing on the area in which the patient needs help. Strategies include articulation therapy that focuses on proper pronunciation and physical exercises that demonstrate how the tongue is used to form certain words, and tongue, lip, and jaw exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the mouth. Speech therapy is critical in preventing a number of problems from occurring. Left untreated, patients have a higher risk of developing hearing loss, weakened oral muscles, excess drooling, breathing problems, and feeding or swallowing disorders. The younger the patient, the more successful speech therapy tends to be.