Speech Disorders

Speech disorders can affect children from an early age, or they may develop later in life following trauma or injury. Most speech disorders are defined as the difficulty or inability to form speech sounds for communicating. Some speech disorders are just part of slower development in children and may go away on their own as the child gets older. Other children with speech problems or disorders that do not improve, may need speech therapy.

Regardless of when they occur, speech disorders can impact an individual's quality of life, causing difficulties at work, school, and many other social environments. Most speech disorders can be treated through speech therapy sessions with a licensed speech therapist. Very few speech disorders require surgical treatment.

Causes for Speech Disorders

Not all causes of speech disorders are known, however some believe that speech problems may be hereditary. In some cases, there is damage to the parts of the brain and nerves that work together to create speech. Speech disorders may also be caused by an underlying condition or disease that may include:

  • Hearing Loss
  • Autism
  • Genetics
  • Cleft Palate
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Growths in the throat

Types of Speech Disorders

Speech disorders vary in symptoms and are categorized into different types of disorders based on how they affect a person's speech and ability to communicate.


An individual that stutters may repeat or extend words, phrases or syllables during everyday speaking. Stuttering may be especially pronounced under excitement, fatigue or stress. Many children stutter when they begin talking, however, most outgrow it as their speech progresses. Speech therapy is usually necessary to treat stuttering that is not outgrown by the time a child reaches school age.

Articulation Disorders

Articulation disorders refer to a series of speech errors involving substitution. In lisping, for example, individuals may pronounce the "z" and "s" sounds with "th." Articulation disorders are often present in children when they first begin speaking but are usually outgrown by the time they start school. Speech therapy may be necessary to treat articulation disorders in school-aged children.

Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is when an individual does not speak in certain social situations. Children under the age of five are most commonly affected by this speech disorder, which often goes unnoticed until they begin school. A combination of speech and cognitive behavioral therapies are usually necessary to treat selective mutism.

Spasmodic Dysphonia

Spasmodic dysphonia is a voice disorder resulting from involuntary spasms of the voice box muscles. Individuals with spasmodic dysphonia may have a voice that sounds broken, strained, or tight, causing communication problems. Medications, and sometimes surgery, are necessary to treat spasmodic dysphonia.

Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis is a common disorder involving a malfunction of one or both of the vocal cords, the tissues that make it possible to speak. In addition to difficulties with breathing or swallowing, individuals with vocal cord paralysis may have a voice that sounds hoarse or weak. While some cases of vocal chord paralysis may heal on their own, others may require surgery and speech therapy.

Younger children benefit greatly from early intervention speech therapies and their speech may improve by the time they enter school. It is important for patients with speech-related problems to see a doctor to create a customized treatment plan for their condition.

Additional Resources