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Speech Impairment

Alternate Names

  • aphasia

Definition

Speech impairment means that an individual has difficulty using the body parts and muscles that make the motions or sounds needed for speech. Language impairment is different from speech impairment. Language impairment is caused by damage to the brain that makes it difficult or even impossible to use or understand words.

What is the information for this topic?

Speech impairments vary widely in their cause, effect, and treatment.
How does this impairment occur?
Some babies are born with physical conditions, such as cleft lip and cleft palate, that make it difficult or impossible to learn to speak. Cleft lip is an incomplete joining of the upper lip. Cleft palate is an abnormal passageway through the roof of the mouth into the airway of the nose. Because these problems are present at birth, they are called congenital.
Other causes of speech impairment include:
  • a brain tumor
  • congenital disorders, such as Down syndrome, which also causes mental retardation
  • emotional or psychological problems, such as selective mutism
  • injuries to the brain, such as head injury
  • injury to the muscles needed for speech
  • medication side effects
  • muscle weakness or paralysis, which may occur in degenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's disease, a degenerative nerve disorder
  • profound deafness, or other hearing impairments
  • stroke
  • surgical removal of the tongue or voice box, known as laryngectomy
  • throat cancer or tongue cancer
Are there ways to reduce a speech impairment?
Some congenital disorders, such as cleft palate or lip, can be repaired with surgery. With other problems, a speech therapist can help during rehabilitation supervised by a healthcare professional. People who have lost their speech because of a stroke can often regain some or all of their speaking ability by working with a speech therapist.
Some children and adults can learn American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is mostly used by people who are deaf or severely hearing impaired, but many people can benefit from learning it. People who have lost the ability to speak because of surgery can sometimes use an electronic device that produces sounds imitating the human voice. Known as augmentative communication, these devices include typewriters, speech computers, or special boards with pictures or words.
How do people with this impairment function?
People who are born with a speech impairment and learn ASL at an early age can function well. They may stay within a circle of friends and family who are at ease with them.
People who lose the ability to speak due to illness or injury may feel frustrated and impatient when trying to communicate.
Some people can regain their speech or learn to speak well enough to get their meaning across. It is important to treat a person with a speech impairment normally. People should take their time and be patient when trying to communicate with such a person. Difficulty with speech has nothing to do with intelligence. If understanding is difficult, it may be useful to ask the person to write a word or phrase.

Sources

Rehabilitation/Restorative Care in the Community, SP Hoeman, 1990.

Mosby's Medical, Nursing,&Allied Health Dictionary, 1998.

Rehabilitation Nursing Process and Application, SP Hoeman, 1996.

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