When a person is unable to produce speech sounds correctly or fluently, or has problems with his or her voice, then he or she has a speech disorder. Difficulties pronouncing sounds, or articulation disorders, and stuttering are examples of speech disorders.
Some people with speech disorders are aware of what they would like to say but are unable to articulate their thoughts. Speech disorders can affect the way a person creates sounds to form words. This may lead to self-esteem issues and the development of depression.
Speech disorders can affect adults and children. Early treatment can correct these conditions.
One of the most commonly experienced speech disorders is stuttering. Other speech disorders include apraxia and dysarthria.
- Apraxia is a motor speech disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain related to speaking.
- Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder in which the muscles of the mouth, face, or respiratory system may become weak or have difficulty moving.
Causes of speech disorders
Speech disorders affect the vocal cords, muscles, nerves, and other structures within the throat.
Causes may include:
- vocal cord damage
- brain damage
- muscle weakness
- respiratory weakness
- polyps or nodules on the vocal cords
- vocal cord paralysis
People who have certain medical or developmental conditions may also have speech disorders.
Common conditions that can lead to speech disorders are:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- oral cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- Huntington’s disease
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease
Speech disorders may be hereditary, and they can develop over time.
Symptoms and signs of speech disorders
Depending on the cause of the speech disorder, several symptoms may be present. Common symptoms experienced by people with speech disorders are:
- repeating sounds, which is most often seen in people who stutter
- adding extra sounds and words
- elongating words
- making jerky movements while talking, usually involving the head
- blinking several times while talking
- visible frustration when trying to communicate
- taking frequent pauses when talking
- distorting sounds when talking
- hoarseness, or speaking with a raspy or gravelly sounding voice
Mild speech disorders may not require any treatment. Some speech disorders may simply go away. Others can improve with speech therapy.
How are speech disorders treated?
Treatment varies and depends on the type of disorder. In speech therapy, a professional therapist will guide you through exercises that work to strengthen the muscles in your face and throat. You’ll learn to control your breathing while speaking. Muscle-strengthening exercises and controlled breathing help improve the way your words sound. You’ll also learn ways to practice smoother, more fluent speech.
Some people with speech disorders experience nervousness, embarrassment, or depression. Talk therapy may be helpful in these situations. A therapist will discuss ways to cope with the condition and ways to improve the outlook of your condition. If your depression is severe, antidepressant medications can help.
The outlook improves for people who seek early treatment. Early treatment helps prevent a speech disorder from worsening. The outlook for those with permanent disabilities depends upon the severity of the disability.