Using our voices to speak, and communicating with others is a vital part of being a human being. A child who struggles with speaking needs special assistance to improve her quality of life. As one of the thirteen recognized disabilities, Speech or Language Impairment in children is a condition qualifying for special education services.
What Constitutes a Speech or Language Impairment?
The child may stutter or have problems with word articulation. He might have a lisp, or voice impairment. Typically a child with any level of hearing loss will have difficulty with speech. A child who has selective mutism (refuses to speak in certain situations, such as at school) also qualifies. Even children with ADHD who blurt out answers, interrupt, or use broken sentences, can be referred for assistance.
The Difference Between Speech and Language
Language is a system of various codes and patterns that have meaning. We know that letters are symbols representing sounds. Letters in combination form words, and each word stands for something. Words in combination make sentences, allowing for more complex communication. If a child is unable to process any of these “codes,” like misusing pronouns (“You” instead of “I”) or not putting words together to form a sentence, he has a language impairment. (However, there is a difference between young children who make mistakes as they learn language, versus a child with persistent, ongoing difficulties.)
Speech is the mechanical process of the body through which language is spoken. Speech involves lips, teeth, tongue, throat, vocal chords, lungs, and other body processes. If a child has received a tracheotomy, for example, the throat and vocal chords may be affected, and this would impair a child’s speech, while his ability to process language is unchanged.
Often a child with a speech impairment will also have some form of language impairment, and vice-versa.
The professionals who treat individuals with speech and language disorders are called “Speech-Language Pathologists.” Often we just say “Speech Therapist,” but this is the informal term. These professionals who have their “C”s, (Certificate of Clinical Competence) aren’t too shabby: They must possess a graduate degree, be observed in clinical practice, and pass a national examination. They are obviously highly qualified to help in all aspects of speech, language, and swallowing impairments.
How Can I Find A Speech-Language Pathologist for my Child?
Here is an outstanding website: http://www.asha.org/.
Use it to locate a speech therapist near you. However, for school aged children it may be best to work through your child’s public school system. First of all, it’s likely to be free or vastly cheaper that way. The school should have its own licensed speech-language pathologist who works on site. If not, the school should provide access to one for your child.
As a young girl I stuttered. I also had a lisp. When I was in preschool I jumped off a bed and knocked my front baby teeth out prematurely, which didn’t help matters. At school, I remember being called out of class each day so I could meet with a speech therapist. I actually enjoyed those meetings very much; I got to look at pictures and speak and do vocal exercises. As is the case for 75% of young children, my stuttering and lisp eventually disappeared. But I will never forget how my mother explained my stuttering to me. She said, “You are so smart and your brain works so quickly that it’s hard for your mouth to keep up.” As an adult, I look back with appreciation for those words. Here I was, struggling with my ability to talk, and my mother found a way to make me feel special and even “gifted.”