3.6 What is Speech Impairment? – Definition, Causes & Characteristics

Jan 12, 2020 | ch3 How Language Impacts the Brain, Cognitive Psychology, Courses

Did you know that millions of people in the United States have some type of speech impairment? Learn more about the different types of speech impairment, their causes, and the characteristics associated with impaired speech in this lesson.

Definition of Speech Impairment

A speech impairment is a condition in which the ability to produce speech sounds that are necessary to communicate with others is impaired. Speech impairments can be mild, such as occasionally mispronouncing a couple of words, to severe, such as not being able to produce speech sounds at all.

We rely on speech as one of the primary methods of communicating with others. An impairment in speech can significantly impact our ability to communicate. Speech impairments in childhood can have a negative influence on social development. Speech impairments at all stages of life can lead to social isolation, embarrassment, and shame.

Characteristics and Types of Speech Impairments

There are three types of speech impairments, each with their own set of characteristics. The three types are:

  1. Articulation disorders
  2. Fluency disorders
  3. Voice disorders

Articulation disorders are characterized by the distortion or absence of speech sounds. An example of an articulation disorder is trouble pronouncing blended sounds, such as ‘sp.’ A child who has trouble with this may incorrectly pronounce ‘spaghetti’ as ‘thaghetti.’

Fluency disorders, also known as disfluency, are characterized by an interruption or break in the normal flow of speech, such as stuttering. Another example is the false start, which is when you say something, but stop in the middle of your sentence and restart with a new idea, for example, ‘I really liked, it is so cold outside.’

Voice disorders are characterized by impairments in the voice, including loudness, vocal quality, and pitch. For example, throat cancer can decrease the quality and pitch of your voice and make it difficult for others to understand you.

Causes of Speech Impairments

The cause of a speech impairment may be very difficult to determine, especially in cases of disfluencies or articulation disorders. Known causes of speech impairments include:

  • Damage in the parts of the brain that control speech
  • Drug abuse
  • Hearing loss
  • Mental retardation and developmental disorders, such as autism
  • Genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome
  • Physical or verbal abuse
  • Structural impairments in the muscles and bones that are used to produce speech sounds, such as a cleft lip
  • Neurological disorders, such as a stroke, cerebral palsy, and Parkinson’s disease

Voice disorders are a result of difficulty in air passing from the lungs to the vocal cords, throat, nose, mouth, and lips. Causes of voice disorder include:

  • Stomach acid moving upward
  • Problems with the palate, including cleft palate
  • Nerve damage in areas associated with vocal cord muscles
  • Lung, throat, or oral cancer
  • Vocal cord overuse, including excessive screaming or clearing the throat
  • Illnesses that affect airflow, including asthma and emphysema
  • Inflammation or infection in nasal pathways

Lesson Summary

Speech impairments are impairments in our ability to produce speech. There are three types of speech impairments:

  1. Articulation disorders, which are characterized by trouble producing sound
  2. Fluency disorders, which are characterized by breaks in speech flow
  3. Voice disorders, which are characterized by impairments in the voice itself

The causes of speech impairments include brain damage, neurological conditions, physical abuse, or even simple overuse. So the next time you clear your throat, remember that if you do it too much, you might just give yourself a speech impairment.

Learning Outcomes

When you’ve studied and listened to this lesson on speech impairments, prepare to:

  • Relate the meaning of the term ‘speech impairments’
  • Recognize their characteristics
  • Name the three types of speech impairments
  • Determine the causes of many speech impairments
3.7 Auditory Processing Disorder & Dyslexia
3.5 Characteristics of Speech Sound Errors: Speech & Communication Disorders