Understanding Speech and Language Disorders
Speech and language disorders are varied and can occur at any age. Regardless of the severity of speech and language disorders, a person’s ability to interact and communicate with others will be affected. Speech and language disorders can interfere with a person’s ability to understand, to express his or her thoughts, or to be understood. Their causes are varied. They may be present from birth, or they can occur in childhood or later in life due to accident or illness.
Understanding Speech Disorders
A speech disorder affects one’s ability to speak words so they are understandable. Many people with speech disorders have no problem understanding or reasoning. For example, a person with cerebral palsy may have a speech disorder but have no problem with his or her processing and understanding ideas.
Speech disorders may also involve disorders of the voice, including pitch, loudness, or quality. A common speech disorder is stuttering, which is marked by repetition and a struggle to get words out. Many speech disorders have no known cause.
Understanding Language Disorders
Persons with language disorders may struggle to understand spoken or written words. Language disorders may result from or accompany intellectual impairment, autism spectrum disorders, hearing loss, brain injury or brain tumors, stroke, and dementia. Language disorders may also exist in individuals with typical intellectual, sensory, or physical development.
Speech disorders and language disorders are not interchangeable. A person may have both a speech and a language disorder or have one without the other.
Persons with language and speech disorders may try to hide their disorders and may struggle reading aloud in public. Some individuals, especially children, may be unaware they have a language or speech disorder. Families or loved ones of the person with a speech or language disorder may seek therapy from a speech-language pathologist. Those with these disorders and their loved ones need to be patient while seeking therapy.
Ways to Help
- Learn from the family, caregiver, or individual about the nature of the person’s communication disorder, whether it is a speech or language disorder or both.
- Treat the person with respect. Do not be afraid to ask him or her to repeat a word or sentence. Be patient; do not supply words or finish thoughts for him or her.
- Address the person with the communication disorder directly. Do not assume someone with a speech disorder lacks the capacity to understand.
- Look for facial, hand, or other responses. Speech is not the only form of communication.
- Do not urge a person who stutters to slow down or start over. This tends to make the stuttering worse.
- Support the individual and his or her caretakers in their search for spiritual support. Do not try to provide answers as to why they have this struggle.
- Provide appropriate ways for the individual to participate in Church worship, activities, and service. For example, a person with a speech disorder can participate in a musical presentation using a musical instrument, even a bell.
- Speak clearly and distinctly but naturally. Be aware that people might feel like you are “talking down” to them if you speak too slowly.
- Be willing to work at communicating. In some cases, this may mean learning basic sign language or being aware of special communication devices for individuals who are nonverbal. If appropriate, become familiar with devices, systems, and programs which have been developed to assist.
- Realize that the individual needs a loving, supportive network of friends, ward members, and family.
- Strive to understand what the individual is saying by focusing on what he or she says rather than how he or she is saying it.
- Be attentive when speaking with someone or listening to someone with a communication disorder. Make eye contact.
- Prayerfully prepare ahead for lessons; help a student, if appropriate, to practice reading or speaking aloud. Avoid calling on someone without notice.
- Be patient and respectful when someone with a communication disorder contributes in class. Give him or her time to respond. Through your example, help the class realize that he or she is an intelligent person who can share valuable insight and ideas.
- Create a supportive environment free from teasing or mocking. Consult with family, caregivers, or the individual. If appropriate, inform your class beforehand about an individual’s communication disorder. If some teasing occurs, kindly clarify that such will not be tolerated. Speak with the person who did the teasing afterward, if necessary. Or if necessary and if the teasing is done by a young person, engage the help of the parents or the appropriate Church leader.
- Find a way to communicate with the person. If necessary for nonverbal individuals, especially children, use language boards or symbols to communicate. Speak with parents or the caregiver about the best ways to communicate with a nonverbal child.