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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.
Symptoms and indications: Speech disorders refer to difficulties producing speech sounds or problems with voice quality. They might be characterized by an interruption in the flow or rhythm of speech, such as stuttering, which is called dysfluency. 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. They may say "see" when they mean "ski" or they may have trouble using other sounds like "l" or "r." Listeners may have trouble understanding what someone with a speech disorder is trying to say. People with voice disorders may have trouble with the way their voices sound.
A language disorder is an impairment in the ability to understand and/or use words in context, both verbally and nonverbally. Some characteristics of language disorders include improper use of words and their meanings, inability to express ideas, inappropriate grammatical patterns, reduced vocabulary and inability to follow directions. One or a combination of these characteristics may occur in children who are affected by language learning disabilities or developmental language delay. 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.
Causes and risk factors: Hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, autism, mental retardation, drug abuse, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate, and vocal abuse or misuse. Genetics may also play a role in some speech problems. For example, stuttering seems to run in some families. Frequently, however, the cause is unknown.
Prevention: Stuttering can best be prevented by parents withholding undue attention to dysfluency in their young child. As young children begin to speak, some dysfluency is common. They lack a large vocabulary and have difficulty expressing themselves. This results in broken or dysfluent speech. If parents place excessive attention on the dysfluency, a pattern may develop.