Everyone has had trouble talking. You know what you want to say but you just can’t think of the right word. Maybe you’ve been so excited or scared that you stutter. The words want to rush out but your mouth can’t work fast enough.
Some people cope with speech disorders all their lives, stuttering being the most common.
The majority of speech disorders start in childhood. Almost 8 percent of children have some communication or swallowing disorder according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Of those, about 6 percent have a speech disorder. Some children outgrow them and some require speech therapy.
Adults who still stutter not only cope with the disorder but often the shame and depression that comes from the way others treat them.
Types of Disorders
Speech disorders go beyond the way people talk. They include what they heard as a child, how they process information, and there may be some physical issues like cleft palates.
- Articulation — This is often seen as cute in very young children. Words with the letters “R” and “l” — like “rabbit” and “fall” — are hard to pronounce. They sound like “wabbit” and “faw.”
- Fluency — This includes stuttering. People have problems with how words and sentences flow. The brain is working faster than their mouth. It should go away by 4 years old.
- Voice — Voice disorders are marked by children speaking too loudly or too quietly, or they’re hoarse. These disorders may be caused by an abnormal (though harmless) group of cells growing on the vocal cords which can put too much stress on their voice.
- Motor — There are two kinds:
- Apraxia is caused by damage to the area of the brain related to speech
- Dysarthria is caused when muscles in the mouth, face, or respiratory system are weak or hard to move
Stuttering is the most common speech disorder affecting 3 million people in the U.S. It is also called stammering or disfluency. Most children grow out of it by puberty. It affects mostly boys, and girls are more likely to grow out of it.
Famous entertainers including Kendrick Lamar, Nicole Kidman, James Earl Jones, Samuel L. Jackson and Steve Harvey all stutter. President Joe Biden spoke about his stammer in an interview last year.
The longer stuttering lasts, the more problems it causes. It can affect how someone learns, causing them to withdraw and not participate in class. It can also lead to low self-esteem, keeping someone from communicating verbally.
Some people may resort to pointing to things they want on a menu rather than speaking.
Causes of Speech Disorders
Causes of speech disorders are not always clear. Issues like stuttering, apraxia, and dysarthria often have a family component. Other causes include:
- Hearing impairment — Inability to hear will make it difficult to learn to speak.
- Autism — This frequently affects communication.
- Developmental disabilities — These can affect the ability to speak.
- Injury/Stroke — Traumatic events affecting the brain could disrupt the ability to speak.
- Psychosocial issues — Children who were severely neglected can have delayed speech development.
Care and Coping
Speech therapy and speech pathology can correct most speech disorders when treated in early childhood. Stuttering can also be successfully treated in adolescence through adulthood. Often, stuttering occurs in certain situations as the person who stutters gets older.
You can help a friend or family member with a stutter by:
- Having relaxed, fun, and enjoyable conversations.
- Having conversations without the TV, phone, or other distractions.
- Not correcting the person’s speech or completing their sentences.
- Patiently listening and maintaining eye contact.
- Not using phrases like, “slow down” or “take a breath.” They will likely make the person more self-conscious.
- Setting a good example by speaking in a way that is slow and relaxed.
- Talking frankly about stuttering to help remove the stigma they may feel.
You’re Not Alone
AltaMed is available to help you find resources if you are concerned about your child’s speech development. Speak to one of our pediatricians who can do an initial screening and put you in touch with a speech therapist if necessary.
Our Behavioral Health Services can also help you cope with issues you may have stemming from a speech disorder. Our licensed clinical social workers speak English and Spanish and have resources to help. To learn more about our services, call (855) 425-1777.