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What Is a Speech Impediment?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2014
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Any speech disorder or condition that makes it difficult or impossible for a person to talk is considered a speech impediment. The causes of these issues can be congenital or acquired and can manifest in several different ways. The most common impediments are aphasia, apraxia, dysarthria, and stuttering; once any applicable underlying issue is addressed, the speech impediment is typically treated with therapy.

A speech impediment can be caused by a neurological disorder, malformation of the vocal cords, or issues with the face or facial muscles. These health challenges may be present at birth, primarily as a birth defect, or can be caused by metabolic issues, tumors, infections, or physical injuries. In some cases, malformation or damage to the nerves that send messages between the brain and the muscles in the face can cause a speech impediment.

Aphasia, a language impediment, almost always results in a speech disorder. This medical issue makes it difficult or impossible for a person to understand language in any form, both spoken or written. This is often caused by a neurological disorder; while it can be congenital, it is a common side effect of a stroke. Due to the inability to understand language, it is nearly impossible for the person to communicate effectively, thus resulting in a speech impediment.

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Apraxia, also common among stroke victims, is caused by a neurological disorder that disrupts the signals between the brain and the muscles used for speech, thereby resulting in someone being unable to say what he or she means. This often manifests as jumbled, nonsensical words, despite the patient knowing what he or she is attempting to communicate. Often caused by a lack of blood flow to a certain portion of the brain, apraxia can resolve itself once blood flow is restored, although permanent damage is possible.

Dysarthria results when a person has difficulty pronouncing certain words or sounds. Common among young children, those with dysarthria often have problems with sounds associated with “s,” “r,” and “l”, although it is not limited to these sounds. Another common childhood speech impediment is stuttering, defined as repeating a sound or phrase unwillingly. While dysarthria and stuttering can often be controlled with speech therapy, recovery from these speech impediments depends largely on their severity and the underlying cause; in some cases, these speech disorders can last well into adulthood.

Speech therapy is the most common treatment for a speech disorder. The therapy tools depend on the type of speech impediment a person is experiencing. In many instances, it is best to address the underlying cause of the impediment, if it is treatable, before therapy. Those suffering from severe disorders may need to undergo therapy several times a week. In cases where the impediment cannot be improved enough to allow a person to communicate with others, an alternative communication option may be used, the most common being computers or sign language.

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Reminiscence
Post 2

I'm glad this article mention apraxia. My mother-in-law had to spend several days in a hospital after suffering a stroke at home. One night she woke up and started speaking gibberish. It had all the cadence of real speech, but none of the words made sense to us. I called it "word salad" at the time.

After an hour or so, I started picking up certain "words" that sounded close to English. She needed to go to the bathroom, but the word she used was "gabnoon". I asked her to speak very slowly, using one word at a time. The word sounded more like "badnoom", and then I realized what she was really trying to say. From that point on, I could roughly translate what she was telling us. The apraxia cleared up the next morning, but we were concerned that she was going to speak like that from that time on.

Cageybird
Post 1

When I was in grade school, I had a problem with "r" sounds. Words beginning with R would sound more like they started with a W. Roger Rabbit would become Woger Wabbit. If it was a "ar" sound in the middle of a word, it would sound more like a flat "er" or "aw". A word like "dart" would sound more like "dehrt".

I don't know why I had so much trouble pronouncing those particular sounds. I wanted the word "art" to have that hard r sound, but it would just come out "ert". My speech therapist thought I started feeling self-conscious while forming that sound and I would get very tense. The correct "ar" sound requires a relaxed, open jaw. She eventually taught me how to correct myself if I felt tension in my jaw. It took a year of intensive therapy, however.

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