Speech and Language Disorders: Types and Symptoms
Language or speaking disorders are used to describe when a person has a specific difficulty with communication or other areas related to communication, like oral motor functions. These disorders have a varied symptomology, from the inability to understand speech to the inability to talk, and the symptoms can appear from childhood into adulthood.
Causes of language disorders
There are many different causes of learning disorders, so it is impossible to pin-point just one. It is possible to differentiate between the causes depending on the chain of events that lead to the language problem, some of which are organic, which refers to any damage to the organs that play a fundamental role in language. We can break down organic causes into the following groups:
Hereditary causes: When the language disorder is inherited from one or both of the parents
Congenital causes: When the language disorder is caused by the use of prescription drugs or complications during pregnancy.
Perinatal causes: Language disorders that originate during birth
Postnatal causes: Language disorders that appear after pregnancy, like disorders due to premature birth.
Aside from the organic causes, there are also functional causes of language disorders, which are due to the pathological function of the organs that are used in language. Endocrine causes mainly affect the child’s psychomotor development. Environmental causes are also a large factor that influence language, as the child surroundings may affect his or her linguistic abilities. Finally, psychosomatic causes have been known to play an important role in development of some language disorders. Our thoughts are powerful, and they can even lead us to creating speech disorders. Likewise, speech disorders can also affect how we think. Both things can make it more difficult to develop good communication skills.
Symptoms of a language disorder
There are various symptoms that can predict a possible language disorder, depending on the type of disorder and the affected area. We can, however, classify the general language disorders by discerning different symptoms.
- Symptoms of an expressive development disorder: You’ll see symptoms like an extremely limited vocabulary, difficulty memorizing words, or creating long sentences.
- Symptoms of an expressive-receptive mixed language disorder: You will see the same symptoms as the disorder above, combined with possible problems associated with reception, like understanding words or phrases.
- Symptoms of a phonological language disorder: You will notice certain mistakes when pronouncing words, reproducing sounds, and/or using sounds.
One of the more apparent speech disorder is stuttering, where the person will have an alteration in the fluidity and organization of words.
Even though language is a complex process and speech disorders can have a number of different symptoms, we can identify certain signs that would indicate a possible speech disorder. We can differentiate the following in child speech disorders:
- Expressive language: This problem might become apparent when the child has a very limited vocabulary compared to others of his or her age. They may have a hard time learning new words, and they may confuse verb tenses. Look out for using general words (this, that, etc.), rather than the precise word. They may not talk very much, and they say things that don’t make sense, even though they’re able to pronounce the words well. The child might use a limited structure in their sentences and repeat the same sentences when they speak.
- Expressive language: Some common signs of an expressive language disorder in children are seeming disinterested when other people talk, trouble following directions or a hard time understanding what is being said.
Types and classification of language disorders
An affection that makes speech difficult due to muscle problems that inhibit speaking.
A type of speech disorder that is classified by the alteration, omission, or substation of certain phonemes for other, incorrect ones.
There are different types of dyslalias:
- Physiological dyslalia: The child’s organs aren’t mature enough to articulate certain words. It is completely normal and no need for worry, as long as it doesn’t last for too long.
- Audiogenic dyslalia: As the name suggests, this speech problem is caused by a defect in the child’s hiring which prevents them from properly being able to imitate sounds.
Functional: This occurs when physiological dyslalia happens over a prolonged period of time.
- Functional dyslalia: It may appear after prolonged physiological dyslalia, when the organs have already matured. It is related to a defect in the articulation of the message.
- Organic dyslalia: This type of dyslalia is also called dysglosia, and is related to defects in the organs that are used in speech.
Dysglossia is a type of language disorder classified by the following characteristics:
- Labial dysglossia: Caused by an alteration by the shape or strength of the lips. Some of the more well-known cases are cleft lip and frenulum.
- Mandibular (jaw) dysglossia: Caused by an alteration in one or both jaws.
- Dental dysglossia: Caused by an alteration in the shape or position of the teeth.
- Lingual dyslossia: Caused by alterations of the tongue. Without the perfect synchronization of the tongue, speech is impaired. Some of the most common disorders that can cause this kind of dysglossia is ankyloglossia (small frenulum), macroglossia (large tongue), or unilateral or bilateral paralysis.
- Nasal dysglossia: Caused by alterations that prevent air from properly reaching the lungs.
- Palatal dysglossia: Caused by alterations to the palate (roof of the mouth).
Dysphemia is defined as an alteration to the tongue, and is characterized by spams and tics caused by poor coordination in the brain’s motor skills. An example of dysphemia is stuttering, which we mentioned earlier.
This type of language disorder doesn’t generally occur in children, as it is the consequence of a brain injury, where certain parts of the brain related to language are affected.
- Broca’s Aphasia: Broca’s aphasia is the caused by a lesion in the frontal lobe where the Broca’s area is located. It is characterized by an extreme difficulty articulating ideas and speaking in short phrases. This aphasia most affects the patient’s expression (which is why it is also called expressive aphasia). However, the patient usually has little to no problems with comprehension.
- Wernicke’s Aphasia: Wernicke’s aphasia is caused by damage to the left temporal lobe, next to the auditory cortex. This disorder is also known as receptive aphasia, because it is characterized by fluid speech that makes little sense. Those who suffer from this disorder also have problems with comprehension.
- Conduction (associative) aphasia: This disorder is caused by damage to the arcuate fasciculus and/or other connections between the temporal and frontal lobes. This disorder is characterized relatively fluid (paraphasic) speech, good comprehension, but trouble reproducing speech. Patients with conduction aphasia have a hard time reading out loud, especially if the words or sentences are long.
- Transcortical sensory aphasia (TSA): Characterized by damage to specific parts of the temporal and parietal lobes, and causes problems with the comprehension of single words, but the ability to reproduce sounds and words is relatively in tact.
- Transcortical motor aphasia (TMoA): Also known as commissural dysphasia, TMoA is causes by damage to the antrtior superior frontal lobe. It is characterized by spontaneous speech, but doesn’t generally affect the ability to name objects.
- Anomic aphasia: Caused by damage to parts of the temporal and parietal lobes, and causes problems producing single words on their own.
- Global aphasia: Global aphasia is the most serious aphasia, and affects important language functions. It affects both receptive brain functions, and is caused by a lesion in the perisylvian cortex.
Dyslexia is common enough that we’ll provide it its own section. Dyslexia is characterized by a learning disorder that affects a child’s reading and writing skills. While professionals still aren’t sure exactly why some people suffer from dyslexia, it is believed that it is caused by problems with the child’s neurodevelopment. This disorder can affect both adults and children, but there are programs available to help assess and improve the symptoms of dyslexia, like neurocognitive assessments for dyslexia, brain games to help treat dyslexia, and programs for schools.
How to diagnose language disorders
In order to properly diagnose a language disorder, it’s important to follow certain guidelines and tests. Identifying a language or speech disorder in a child is especially important, as it may help the child either improve or learn to cope with their language disorder.
If you think that your child or someone you know might have a language disorder, talk to teachers and school staff to find out what information and resources are available to you. They might suggest that you see a professional speech therapist, or that you should wait to see if the child grows out of it.
Language disorders: How to help at home
As you saw above, language and speech disorders don’t only affect one part of speech, and as such, there isn’t only one way to help your child improve their speech problems.
- Find out if the child has a language or speech disorder, or if they just have trouble communicating. Do what you can to have your child communicate in different ways: listen to music, sing, and listen to them.
- Reading is also helpful and can be interactive. Talk about what you’ve read, the pictures, what’s happening in the story, what they think will happen, etc.
- Understanding the problem is also a good start to helping your child. If you’re not sure, see a specialist to help you better understand what’s going on.
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This article was originally written in Spanish by Mario de Vicente