“Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success (Paul J. Meyer). Imagine if you were unable to communicate. If your language, speech or cognitive processing is impaired, it can limit your ability to connect to others. This can lead to frustration and feelings of isolation and sadness. Speech dysfunction and disorders come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some symptoms can seem very innocent such as persistent hoarseness but can actually be an indicator of a more serious problem. It is important to understand common speech disorders and their causes and symptoms so that you can seek treatment when needed.
The most common strategy to treating speech disorders is seeking help from a speech language therapist or SLP. When attending speech therapy, the overall objective is to optimize the individual’s ability to communicate. Our SLP’s work with adults and pediatric patients and treat a wide range of issues that can negatively impact a person’s ability to speak or understand language. Below, we have addressed just a few of the more common speech disorders and identified common causes and symptoms for each.
Aphasia is usually caused by a brain injury such as a stroke, but can also be caused by epilepsy, a brain tumor, or form of dementia such as Alzheimer’s, and is defined by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association as a language disorder caused by damage to a portion of the brain that contains language. This portion of the brain is usually found in the left hemisphere. Aphasia can cause a wide array of symptoms depending on the part of the brain that is damaged and the severity of the injury. Symptoms can include:
- Having difficulty understanding others
- Choppy speech, difficulty with word choice or putting sentences together
- The use of made up words.
Aphasia typically impairs a person’s use of, or comprehension of, language. A person suffering from aphasia may also have trouble understanding reading and writing (Treatment for Aphasia).
While aphasia impacts a person’s language and comprehension, apraxia occurs when a person has difficulty creating the movement patterns needed to produce speech. Some people may be born with apraxia while others may develop it in adulthood due to medical issues such as a stroke, head trauma, brain tumor or neurological disorders.
While aphasia and apraxia may occur at the same time, they are decidedly different. Aphasia addresses a person’s ability to understand or use words and apraxia refers to issues with the physical movement and motor skills needed to create speech. Apraxia symptoms can include:
- Difficulty producing correct sounds
- Awkward rhythm and rate of speech
- Delays in gross motor skills
- General clumsiness
Dysarthia is a condition in which the muscles you use for speech are weak or not easy to control. Common causes of dysarthia are nervous system disorders such as stroke or brain trauma. Dysarthia, like so many speech disorders can begin at birth or occur over time due to things like brain injury, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Dysarthia can also be caused by anything that negatively impacts your facial muscles such as facial paralysis or muscle weakness. People who suffer from dysarthia will have limited movement of the muscles used for speaking. Dysarthia is characterized by:
- Slow or slurred speech,
- Limited facial movement involving the jaw or tongue
- Irregular pitch
- Choppy speech
Vocal disorders can be caused by damage or deformities to the muscles and tissues that are used to produce sound. Your vocal cords may suffer from nodules or polyps causing symptoms such as:
- A feeling of having a “lump” in your throat
- Neck pain
- Limited pitch range
- Voice fatigue
Nodules form on the vocal cords after repeated stress. They initially form soft spots on the vocal cords that develop into hard nodules. These nodules are similar to callouses on a guitar players fingers. The more often and more strenuous a guitar player strums the guitar, the harder and more calloused his or her fingers become. The same thing can occur with nodules on the vocal cords.
Polyps can also develop on a person’s vocal cords and are often a blister like lesion. These are non-cancerous growths and can present a number of symptoms:
- Pain from ear to ear
- Neck pain
- Decreased pitch range
- Voice fatigue
Polyps are caused by the misuse or abuse of your vocal cords. They can be caused by yelling for long periods of time, GERD, smoking, allergies, and anything else that causes undue strain (Other causes of Polyps).
Your treatment plan will depend on the cause and symptoms of your speech disorder. Treatment can include a wide variety of exercises and activities. A specific disorder and the severity of the symptoms will help guide your SLP to an appropriate treatment plan. Your SLP will work with you and your family as a team to determine the best course forward.
If you have difficulty communicating, please reach out to a speech professional. Your speech disorder could range from a stutter to the inability to phrase or utilize words to severe mutism. A speech language pathologist or SLP can evaluate your condition and identify the nature of the problem. A qualified SLP has many tools to help ascertain a correct diagnosis and effective treatment plan. If you are suffering from a speech disorder, contact our team and let us help you improve your ability to communicate today.