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Communication/Speech/Language Disorders

To find patient care programs and faculty treating communication/hearing/speech/language disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute, as well as research investigating this disorder, please see the right-hand column below. Additional helpful information, including definitions, symptoms, Institute press releases, Potential magazine articles, and other resources outside the Institute, have also been provided for readers on this page.

Communication/Speech/Language Disorders Overview:

Speech and language disorders refer to problems in communication and related areas such as oral motor function. These delays and disorders range from simple sound substitutions to the inability to understand or use language or use the oral-motor mechanism for functional speech and feeding. Some causes of speech and language disorders include hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, intellectual disabilities, drug abuse, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate and vocal abuse or misuse.

More than one million of the students served in the public schools' special education programs in the 1998-99 school year were categorized as having a speech or language impairment. This estimate does not include children who have speech/language problems secondary to other conditions, such as deafness. Language disorders may be related to other disabilities such as intellectual disabilities, autism or cerebral palsy. It is estimated that communication disorders affect one of every 10 people in the United States.

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. Speech disorders refer to difficulties producing speech sounds or problems with voice quality. Speech disorders may be problems with the way sounds are formed, called articulation or phonological disorders, or they may be difficulties with the pitch, volume or quality of the voice. There may be a combination of several problems. People with speech disorders have trouble using some speech sounds, which can also be a symptom of a delay.

Examples, Subsets and Synonyms for Communication Disorders:

  • Language Disorders (developmental language disorders)
    • Expressive Language Disorders
    • Receptive-Expressive Language Disorders
  • Phonologic Disorders (speech disorders)
  • Stuttering
  • Dysarthria

Hearing Loss Overview

It is especially important to diagnose and treat a hearing loss in children as early as possible. Early management of hearing loss limits the potential impact of the hearing loss on learning and development. Hearing loss can be categorized by which part of the auditory system is affected. The three main components of the ear are the external ear, middle ear and inner ear. There are three basic types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. A conductive hearing loss is caused by problems in the external or middle ear. Hearing loss can be caused by impacted cerumen, middle ear fluid, or damage to the three bones in the middle ear. Oftentimes, conductive hearing loss can be treated medically. When not medically treatable, hearing aids are a good option. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or nerve of hearing. It is treatable with hearing aids or medically with a cochlear implant. Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. All three types of hearing loss can be present at birth or acquired over time.

Children with hearing loss will find it much more difficult than children who have normal hearing to learn vocabulary, grammar, word order, idiomatic expressions, and other aspects of verbal communication. It is well recognized that hearing is critical to speech and language development, communication, and learning. Children with listening difficulties due to hearing loss or auditory processing problems continue to be an under identified and underserved population. Auditory processing disorders may be present despite the presence of normal peripheral auditory sensitivity. Children with auditory processing disorders may have difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, following directions, and discriminating (or telling the difference between) similar-sounding speech sounds. Sometimes they may behave as if a peripheral hearing loss is present, often asking for repetition or clarification. The earlier hearing loss occurs in a child's life, the more serious the effects on the child's development. Similarly, the earlier the problem is identified and intervention begun, the less serious the ultimate impact.

There are four major ways in which hearing loss affects children: a) the hearing loss can result in delays in the development of receptive and expressive communication; b) The language deficit causes learning problems that result in reduced academic achievement, c) Communication difficulties often lead to social isolation and poor self-concept, and, d) It may have an impact on vocational choices.

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