Speech-language pathology is the treatment for the improvement or correction of a communication disorder. Some of the areas a speech-language pathologist treats include articulation disorders, fluency disorders (such as stuttering), voice disorders, difficulty with pragmatics and swallowing disorders.
Articulation disorders arise when a child has difficulties producing and forming sounds. Omissions, substitutions, and distortions are the most common types of errors. Omissions are when a child omits a sound or leaves a sound out of a word (“da” instead of dog); substitutions occur when a child substitutes one sound for another (“gog” instead of dog); and distortions occur when a child distorts a sound in a word. Listeners may have trouble understanding what someone with a speech disorder is trying to say.
A language disorder is an impairment in the ability to understand and/or use words in context, both verbally and nonverbally. Some characteristics of a language disorder include improper use of words and their meanings, inability to express ideas, inappropriate grammatical patterns, reduced vocabulary, and/or an inability to follow directions. Children may hear or see a word but not be able to understand its meaning. They may have trouble getting others to understand what they are trying to communicate.
Receptive language refers to the skills involved in understanding language. Receptive language also affects language use. For example, the child may have trouble understanding question forms or certain concept words. This causes the child to respond inappropriately to a question or have difficulty staying on the topic of conversation. Expressive language refers to the skills of being precise, complete and clear when expressing thoughts and feelings, answering questions, relating events, and carrying on a conversation.
A child’s communication is considered delayed when the child is noticeably behind his or her peers in the acquisition of speech and/or language skills.
A voice disorder is related to the quality of the vocal production such as pitch, loudness, resonance, and duration. A person with a voice disorder may have difficulty maintaining sound production when speaking, may have a “raspy” sounding voice, or may not be able to vary his/her pitch or loudness. To contrast, a fluency disorder is defined by an interruption in the flow of speech. A person may produce a sound, syllable word, or phrase, multiple times, or may have a block when the speech is halted in the middle of a syllable, word, or phrase. Secondary behaviors may accompany a fluency disorder such as apparent struggling or tension when speaking.
Difficulty with pragmatics indicates that a child has difficulty with social language. The child may not understand the “unspoken” rules of communication, such as: using language for a variety of purposes (greeting, requesting, commenting), changing language according to the situation (talking differently to different people or providing necessary background information), or following rules for conversation and storytelling (maintaining/changing topics, eye contact, personal space).
Feeding or swallowing disorders can occur when a child has difficulty with the process of sucking, chewing, or swallowing foods. Some examples of a swallowing disorder can include requiring a long time to eat (more than 30 minutes), refusing to try different textures, less than normal weight gain, and difficulty chewing. A speech-language pathologist can evaluate and recommend specific swallowing strategies or exercises, diet consistency modifications, or positioning changes
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