What is Meant by "Communication Disorders"?
The term COMMUNICATION DISORDERS encompasses a wide variety of
problems in language, speech, and hearing. Speech and language
impairments include articulation problems, voice disorders, fluency
problems (such as stuttering), aphasia (difficulty in using words,
usually as a result of a brain injury), and delays in speech and/or
language. Speech and language delays may be due to many factors,
including environmental factors or hearing loss.
Hearing impairments include partial hearing and deafness. Deafness may
be defined as a loss sufficient to make auditory communication
difficult or impossible without amplification. There are four types of
hearing loss. Conductive hearing losses are caused by diseases or
obstructions in the outer or middle ear and can usually be helped with
a hearing aid. Sensorineural losses result from damage to the sensory
hair cells of the inner ear or the nerves that supply it and may not
respond to the use of a hearing aid. Mixed hearing losses are those in
which the problem occurs both in the outer or middle ear and in the
inner ear. A central hearing loss results from damage to the nerves or
Many communication disorders result from other conditions such as
learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, or cleft
lip or cleft palate.
How many Children have Communication Disorders?
The overall estimate for speech and language disorders is widely
agreed to be 5% of school-aged children. This figure includes voice
disorders (3%) and stuttering (1%). The incidence of elementary school
children who exhibit delayed phonological (articulation) development
is 2% to 3%, although the percentage decreases steadily with age.
Estimates of hearing impairments vary considerably, with one widely
accepted figure of 5% representing the portion of school-aged children
with hearing levels outside the normal range. Of this number, 10% to
20% require some type of special education. Approximately one-third of
students who are deaf attend residential schools. Two-thirds attend
day programs in schools for students who are deaf or day classes
located in regular schools. The remainder are mainstreamed into
regular school programs.
A child with speech or language delays may present a variety of
characteristics including the inability to follow directions, slow and
incomprehensible speech, and pronounced difficulties in syntax and
articulation. SYNTAX refers to the order of words in a sentence, and
ARTICULATION refers to the manner in which sounds are formed.
Articulation disorders are characterized by the substitution of one
sound for another or the omission or distortion of certain sounds.
What are some Characteristics of Children with Communication Disorders?
Stuttering or dysfluency is a disorder of speech flow that most often
appears between the ages of 3 and 4 years and may progress from a
sporadic to a chronic problem. Stuttering may spontaneously disappear
by early adolescence, but speech and language therapy should be
Typical voice disorders include hoarseness, breathiness, or sudden
breaks in loudness or pitch. Voice disorders are frequently combined
with other speech problems to form a complex communication disorder.
A child with a possible hearing problem may appear to strain to hear,
ask to have questions repeated before giving the right answer,
demonstrate speech inaccuracies (especially dropping the beginnings
and endings of words), or exhibit confusion during discussion.
Detection and diagnosis of hearing impairment have become very
sophisticated. It is possible to detect the presence of hearing loss
and evaluate its severity in a newborn child.
Students who speak dialects different from standard English may have
communication problems that represent either language differences or,
in more severe instances, language disorders.
What are the Educational Implications of Communication Disorders?
Many speech problems are developmental rather than physiological, and
as such they respond to remedial instruction. Language experiences are
central to a young child's development. In the past, children with
communication disorders were routinely removed from the regular class
for individual speech and language therapy. This is still the case in
severe instances, but the trend is toward keeping the child in the
mainstream as much as possible. In order to accomplish this goal,
teamwork among the teacher, speech and language therapist,
audiologist, and parents is essential. Speech improvement and
correction are blended into the regular classroom curriculum and the
child's natural environment.
Amplification may be extremely valuable for the child with a hearing
impairment. Students whose hearing is not completely restored by
hearing aids or other means of amplification have unique communication
needs. Children who are deaf are not automatically exposed to the
enormous amounts of language stimulation experienced by hearing
children in their early years. For deaf children, early, consistent,
and conscious use of visible communication modes such as sign
language, finger spelling, and cued speech and/or amplification and
aural/oral training can help reduce this language delay. Some
educators advocate a strict oral approach in which the child is
required to use as much speech as possible, while others favor the use
of sign language and finger spelling combined with speech, an approach
known as TOTAL COMMUNICATION. There is increasing consensus that
whatever system works best for the individual should be used.
Many children with hearing impairments can be served in the regular
classroom with support services. In addition to amplification,
instructional aids such as captioned films and high interest/low
vocabulary reading materials are helpful. For most children with
hearing impairments, language acquisition and development are
significantly delayed, sometimes leading to an erroneously low
estimate of intelligence.
Students whose physical problems are so severe that they interfere
with or completely inhibit communication can frequently take advantage
of technological advances that allow the individual to make his or her
needs and wants known, perhaps for the first time.
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American Speech/Language and Hearing Association
10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852
National Association of the Deaf
814 Thayer Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910
National Information Center on Deafness
Gallaudet University, Washington, DC 20002
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, Inc.
3417 Volta Place, NW, Washington, DC 20007
Division for Children with Communication Disorders
The Council for Exceptional Children
1920 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091
TRACE Research and Development Center
314 Waisman Center
1500 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53706
Children with Communication Disorders.
ERIC Digest #E470 (Revised #419).
This publication was created by ERIC, the Educational Resources Information Center and was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of
Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, under
contract no. RI88062007. The opinions expressed in this report do not
necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the
Department of Education.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and
Council for Exceptional Children,
ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children