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Communication Disorders


What is a communication disorder?

A communication disorder is a problem with language, speech, and hearing. Communication disorders can affect the way children talk, understand, analyze, or process information.

Speech disorders include:

  • the clarity and voice quality of a child's spoken words
  • fluency problems such as stuttering
  • aphasia (trouble using words, usually as a result of a brain injury)
  • delays in speech

Language disorders include problems being able to:

  • hold meaningful conversations
  • understand others
  • problem solve
  • read and comprehend
  • express thoughts through spoken or written words

Hearing disorders include:

  • partial hearing
  • deafness

How does it occur?

Millions of children under the age of 18 have a communication disorder. Two-thirds of these children are boys. There may be certain genes linked to communication disorders. Researchers are also studying if a problem during pregnancy or environmental factors, such as exposure to chemicals, may be a cause. Communication disorders may result from:

  • learning disabilities
  • cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy
  • autism or pervasive development disorder (PDD)
  • mental retardation
  • cleft lip or cleft palate
  • hearing loss due to ear diseases or damage to the nerves or brain

What are the signs of a communication disorder?

You should be concerned if your child:

  • Does not understand his name and a few words or simple commands by age 1 year.
  • Is not saying words by 14 to 16 months of age.
  • Has trouble being understood by people outside the family after age 3.
  • Has any unusual facial, vocal, or breathing behaviors.
  • Hesitates or distorts words and meanings after age 5 years.
  • Is often hoarse without having a cold.
  • Has a more limited vocabulary than other children the same age.
  • Does poorly in school.
  • Strains to hear.
  • Often asks to have things repeated.
  • Drops the beginnings and endings of words when speaking.
  • Seems confused during conversations.
  • Is not able to follow directions.

How is it diagnosed?

Parents or teachers usually notice problems early in grade school. Do not wait to see if a problem goes away or continues. You may miss many months of valuable therapy. Take your child in for an evaluation.

Your child's healthcare provider will examine they child and ask about the child's symptoms. Your child will also have hearing and vision tests. The provider may refer you to a speech/language pathologist. A speech-language pathologist will identify:

  • the nature and severity of the disorder or delay
  • possible causes
  • a treatment program

How is it treated?

Speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and learning assistance are helpful. Speech and language therapy will:

  • improve your child's ability to understand language
  • increase your child's vocabulary
  • expand your child's use of words and sounds
  • help your child develop language to an appropriate level
  • use sign language, picture boards, or an electronic device if necessary

Treatment may also involve a developmental pediatrician, learning specialist, neurologist, otolaryngologist, or mental health specialist. Psychotherapy may help if communication problems seriously interfere with school, socializing with friends, or daily activities.

What can I do to help my child?

Help your child relax and feel accepted. Help your child gain a sense of success through a hobby or other activity in an area of strength. Sometimes the more your child wants to communicate, the harder it will be. Do not put pressure on your child. Do not say "You can't have it unless you say it first."

Most school districts have special programs to help children with communication disorders. Find out what services are available through the school district or your community.


Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-12-16
Last reviewed: 2010-12-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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