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Speech and Language Disorders

​​Types of speech and language difficulties

Classification of speech disorders

First steps to learn how to talk 

Useful tips

Seeking help from a professional Speech-Language Pathologist




Talking is not always easy

Some children may find it hard to develop language. They may need more time than others to learn how to talk. Perhaps understanding words and knowing when and how to produce them is a great struggle for the child. When this happens, the child may need extra help to improve his/her speech and language development. 

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Types of speech and language difficulties

Certain children do not develop their speech and language skills as expected and not at par with their age groups. They may have difficulties with one or all aspects of speech and language development which may inhibit their communication with others.

These may result in difficulties in the following areas: 

  • producing clear speech and not being able to articulate certain sounds in words; 
  • understanding commands and instructions; 
  • joining words to form sentences; 
  • to produce appropriate sentence construction and correct grammar; 
  • understanding ‘wh’ questions and also replying; 
  • expression and comprehension. 
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Classification of speech disorders

Children with communication difficulties are most often speech disordered. Their speech is difficult or impossible to understand, because it is characterised by many mispronunciations of words. There are many types of speech disorders. These differ in terms of their severity, the underlying cause, the characteristics of speech errors and the presence/ absence of any language related difficulties (e.g. delayed language).

Children with speech difficulties may not always be aware of their unintelligibility. Yet others may withdraw socially or become overtly frustrated by their difficulty in making themselves understood.

Speech disorders can be of congenital origin, that is, due to complications experienced at birth (e.g. intellectual disability, hearing impairment and cleft lip and palate etc).

In other cases, children’s disorders emerge during the first years of life, when they have difficulties in developing speech at an appropriate age. This group is characterised as having a developmental disorder.

Other children, whose acquisition of speech and language proves to be typical, acquire a speech disorder due to an accident (e.g. head injury) or illness (e.g. meningitis leading to hearing loss). These are known as acquired speech disorders.

Speech disorders can be explained through a simple model: 

  i) Articulatory – a disorder of motor speech production, or, 

  ii) Phonological – a language based disorder


Articulation Disorder 
An articulation disorder can be defined as a difficulty to physically produce an intelligible sound, either in isolation or at word level.

Phonological Disorders
The speech of a child with a phonological disorder is characterised by limitations on the:

  • number of different speech sounds used; 
  • range of how speech sounds are combined into syllables and used at word level.

Such difficulties may occur consistently or inconsistently. As a result of these limitations, the child often does not succeed in signaling meaning effectively to a listener. 

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First steps to learn how to talk

The primary skills needed to develop language mainly take place within the first five years of a child’s life. Such skills involve thought, vocabulary, memory, meaning, as well as grammar. As children grow older, their language advances from simple two word phrases to longer and more complex utterances.

A child is not able to learn a language by himself, s/he needs YOU to learn the skills required to talk. 


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Babies Header 
 
Babies fee​l the urge to communicate with us. They cry if they are feeling uncomfortable or hungry and look at us when we communicate with them by smiling and using simple words. As we talk to them, babies start developing their understanding and this promotes further communication. By 6 months, a baby starts to babble and enjoys playing. 
 

 

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12 to 18 months header

The first words start to develop by 12 to 18 months. At this age, words are unintelligible and often we don’t understand them. As children learn how to start walking, their vocabulary begins to increase. Toddlers begin to produce up to about 100 words. Then they will learn how to join two word phrases by listening to you. Later, they will start using short sentences. 
 

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3 to 5 years header

By the age of three, a child can understand and use many different words. Short phrases and questions are produced by the child such as where? or what? By the age of four, more words are joined to form utterances. The child’s grammar begins to mature and at this point s/he can take part in a conversation. At five years of age, a good deal of language learning has been mastered and the child’s utterances are now used to join ideas together. 

 

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 Useful Tips

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  • Speak to your child with enthusiasm to make communication enjoyable. 
  • Give your child time and make sure that siblings do not talk for him/her. 
  • Give the child interesting experiences to talk about. 
  • Talk about the child's favourite toys. 
  • Give the child choices by showing the objects you are referring to, for example: 'Do you want an apple or a banana?' 
  • Model to the child when he speaks for example if the child says 'want drink' try and rephrase the child's utterance correctly example 'I want to drink'. 
  • Use signs and gestures while talking to your child. It will help your child understand and remember more what you are telling him. 
  • Do not force your child to speak or ask your child to say something in front of relatives etc. 
  • Give your child a chance to speak, don't jump in too quickly before your child has finished what he is trying to say. 
  • Whilst dummies may be useful to calm a child, they certainly do not help to produce intelligible speech. 
  • Do not code-switch when talking to your child, for example: “Kbir il-horse” or “Trid chocolate?” Stick to one language and do that consistently.
  • Have fun together. Use actions, sing to your child and emphasize on noises and sounds. This will draw your child’s attention and make them laugh.
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Seeking help from a professional Speech-Language Pathologist

If you are concerned about your child's communication, it is of utmost importance to contact a speech-language pathologist to seek help and advice. The speech and language pathologist's role involves

  • Screening and identification 
  • Assessment 
  • Planning of intervention 
  • Monitoring intervention 
  • Management of the child's case 
  • Consultation and referral to other allied professionals. 
  • Management of the child’s case. 
  • Consultation and referral to other allied professionals. 
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