About Communication Disorders

Hearing, Speech and Language Disorders Across the Life Span

Who is an Audiologist?

Audiologists are professionals who assess, treat, and manage hearing loss and balance disorders in adults and children.

Who is a Speech-Language Pathologist?

A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) is a professional who engages in professional practice in the areas of communication (articulation, fluency, voice, resonance, language, cognition, hearing) and swallowing (all aspects of swallowing including related feeding behaviors).

What is the difference between speech and language?

Speech disorders refer to when a person has difficulty producing sounds and include articulation, phonology, voice and fluency disorders.

Language disorders refer to when a person has difficulty with comprehension or with oral expression in the areas of grammar, vocabulary and social pragmatics.

What are some common speech, language and hearing disorders?

There are many causes of childhood hearing loss. Common causes of hearing loss in children are include:

  1. Ear infections (otitis media)
    • An ear infection is an inflammation of the middle ear
    • It can be caused by bacteria that may happen fluid builds up behind the eardrum.
    • Children who cannot tell you that their ear hurts may tug or pull at their ear(s), have trouble sleeping, may be fussy, may have fluid draining from their ear(s), may have fever and may have trouble hearing soft sounds.
    • More information about otitis media is available at the Centers for Disease Control
  2. Congenital (hearing loss present at birth) factors
    • About one-half of children born with hearing loss are related to genetic factors.
    • Other hearing losses that are present at birth can be caused by infections or illnesses experienced during pregnancy or events that happen during birth. Many types of medications, drugs or alcohol that are taken during pregnancy can also cause congenital hearing loss. For more specific information your audiologist, obstetrician or pediatrician can be helpful.
  3. Acquired (hearing loss that occurs after birth) factors
    • Ear infections – see above
    • Other possible causes include meningitis, measles, injury to the head, taking medications that may damage the ear and exposure to loud noises. For more specific information your audiologist or pediatrician can be helpful.

1. Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

  • This is a motor speech disorder that makes it difficult for kids to speak.
  • They typically know what they want to say but have difficulty carrying out complex sequences of sounds.
  • The core impairment is in motor planning and/or programming and results in speech sound errors and impaired intonation. (ASHA, 2007b, Definitions of CAS section, para. 1).
  • ASHA: Childhood Apraxia of Speech

2. Speech Sound Disorder (SSD)

  • This is an umbrella term for articulation disorders and phonological disorders.
  • Articulation = difficulty with production of speech sounds
  • Phonology disorder – difficulty with understanding the rules of the speech system (how sounds are organized and function in communication) resulting in errored speech patterns.
  • ASHA: Speech Sound Disorders-Articulation and Phonology

3. Stuttering

Disfluencies that interfere with the forward flow of speech (Van Riper, 1982) including:

  • Core behaviors (e.g., part-word repetitions, blocks, prolongations, etc.).
  • Secondary behaviors, which are learned responses to stuttering (e.g., eye blinking, facial grimacing, movement of the head or extremities)
  • Feelings and attitudes (Scaler Scott, 2016).
  • Childhood Fluency Disorders

1.Receptive Language Disorder

  • Difficulty with comprehension (e.g. following directions, answering wh-questions).

2. Expressive Language Disorder

  • Difficulty with syntax or form (e.g., grammar), semantics or meaning (e.g., vocabulary), pragmatics or use (e.g., social language).

1. Dysphagia

A swallowing disorder that can affect both children and adults. A child may have difficulty with feeding, which refers to the process of eating, drinking, sucking or chewing and swallowing. Feeding problems may also exist in the absence of swallowing problems. Avoidance of specific foods or textures, or an overly restricted variety of food choices are examples of feeding disorders when there is no swallowing disorder. A swallowing disorder refers to difficulty with the complex process of moving food from the mouth to the stomach while protecting the airway.

ASHA: Pediatric Dysphagia

ASHA: Adult Dysphagia

There are many causes of adult hearing loss. Common causes of hearing loss in adults include:

  1. Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is also referred to as presbycusis. It is a hearing loss that gradually occurs in adults as they grow older. It is a common cause of hearing loss in adults.
    • This hearing loss usually occurs equally in both ears.
    • Individuals with age-related hearing loss may have trouble understanding friends, relatives and may become angry or frustrated when talking with them.
    • Individuals with ARHL may turn up the radio, television, or computer to levels that are uncomfortable for others.
  2. Noise-related hearing loss occurs when the very sensitive parts of the inner ear are damaged because of exposure to brief, very loud sounds or sounds that are loud and last a long time.
    1. This type of hearing loss is also known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
    2. The hearing loss can occur rapidly or may occur over a longer period of time.
    3. Individuals who have NIHL often report ringing (also called tinnitus) n their ears and may be hypersensitive to sound.

1. Acquired Apraxia of Speech

  • Damage to the parts of the brain that control how your muscles move causes apraxia of speech.
  • Causes can be a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or a brain tumor.
  • Patients have difficulty with volitional (intentional) speech, producing sounds correctly and/or getting their articulators into place for speech production.
  • ASHA: Acquired Apraxia of Speech

2. Dysarthria

  • A motor speech disorder resulting from disturbances in muscular control over the articulators. 

  • Causes can be a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dysarthria can impact voice quality, loudness, resonance, articulation and prosody.
  • ASHA: Dysarthria in Adults

1. Aphasia

  • An adult language disorder resulting from damage to the brain, typically on the left side.
  • Causes can be a stroke, traumatic brain injury, brain tumor or progressive neurological diseases.
  • Aphasia can be classified as “fluent” or “nonfluent” and impacts oral expression, comprehension and repetition.
  • ASHA: Aphasia

2. Dementia

Acquired neurocognitive disease characterized by:

  • Declining memory
  • Declining language skills
  • Declining perceptual abilities
  • Behavioral changes

Impaired executive functioning skills which include:

  • Poor attention
  • Difficulty planning
  • Difficulty reasoning
  • Poor judgment
  • ASHA: Dementia

If you suspect that you or a friend or family member is experiencing a hearing, speech or language disorder please contact an audiologist or speech-language pathologist.

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