Speech or Language Impairment


Speech or Language Impairment



Our nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines Speech or Language Impairment as …

“… a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” 

[34 Code of Federal Regulations § 300.8(c) (11)]

Other Definition

There are many kinds of speech and language disorders that can affect children. There are four major areas in which these impairments can occur: articulation, fluency, voice, and language. (NICHCY, 2011)


Of the 6.1 million children with disabilities who received special education under IDEA in public schools in the 2005-2006 school year, more than 1.1 million were served under the category of speech or language impairment. This estimate does not include children who have speech/language problems secondary to other conditions such as deafness, intellectual disability, autism, or cerebral palsy. Because many disabilities do impact that individual's ability to communicate, the actual incidence of children with speech-language impairment is undoubtedly much higher. (NICHCY, 2011)


Some causes of speech and language disorders include hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, intellectual disabilities, drug abuse, physical impairments (cleft lip or palate), and vocal abuse or misuse. Frequently, however, the cause is unknown. (NICHCY, 2011)


Since intellectual disabilities and hearing loss are predisposing factors for speech disorders, at-risk infants should be referred to an audiologist for an audiology exam. Audiological and speech therapy can then be started if necessary.

Stuttering can best be prevented by parents withholding undue attention to dysfluency in their young child. As young children begin to speak, some dysfluency is common. They lack a large vocabulary and have difficulty expressing themselves. This results in broken or dysfluent speech. If parents place excessive attention on the dysfluency, a pattern may develop. (Medline Plus, 2012


The characteristics of speech or language impairments will vary depending upon the type of impairment involved. There may also be a combination of several problems.

When a child has an articulation disorder, he or she has difficulty making certain sounds. These sounds may be left off, added, changed, or distorted, which makes it hard for people to understand the child.

Fluency refers to the flow of speech. A fluency disorder means that something is disrupting the rhythmic and forward flow of speech - usually, a stutter. As a result, the child's speech contains an abnormal number of repetitions, hesitations, prolongations, or disturbances. Tension may also be seen in the face, neck, shoulders, or fists.

Voice is the sound that's produced when air from the lungs pushes through the voice box in the through, making the vocal folds within vibrate. From the the sound generated travels up through the spaces of the throat, nose, and mouth, and emerges as our voice. A voice disorder involves problems with the pitch, loudness, resonance, or quality of the voice. The voice may be hoarse, raspy, or harsh. For some, it may sound quite nasal; others might seem as if they are stuffed up. People with voice problems often notice changes in pitch, loss of voice, loss of endurance, and sometimes a sharp or dull pain associated with voice use.

Language has to do with meanings, rather than sounds. A language disorder refers to an impaired ability to understand and/or use words in context. A child may have an expressive language disorder (difficulty in expressing ideas or needs), a receptive language disorder (difficulty in understanding what others are saying, or a mixed language disorder (which involves both). Some characteristics of language disorders include: improper use of words and their meanings; inability to express ideas; inappropriate grammatical patterns; reduced vocabulary; and inability to follow directions. 

Children may hear or see a word but not be able to understand its meaning. They may have trouble getting others to understand what they are trying to communicate. These symptoms can easily be mistaken for other disabilities such as autism or learning disabilities, so it's very important to ensure that the child receives a thorough evaluation by a certified speech-language pathologist. (NICHCY, 2011)


The prognosis depends on the cause of the disorder. Usually, speech can be improved with speech therapy. Prognosis improves with early intervention. (Medline Plus, 2012)


Children with communication disorders frequently do not perform at grade level. They may struggle with reading, have difficulty understanding and expressing language, misunderstand social cues, avoid attending school, show poor judgment, and have difficulty with test. Difficulty in learning to listen, speak, read or write can result from problems in language development. Problems can occur in the production, comprehension, and awareness of language sounds, syllables, words, sentences, and conversation. Individuals with reading and writing problems also may have trouble using language to communicate, think, and learn. (ASHA, 2012)

Tips for Teachers

Assistive technologies

Assistive technology (AT) can also be very helpful to students, especially those whose physical conditions make communication difficult. Each student's IEP team will need to consider if the student would benefit from AT such as electronic communication system or other device. AT is often the key that helps students engage in the give and take of shared thought, complete school work, and demonstrate their learning.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

10801 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852
301.897.5700 (V/TTY); 800.638.8255 

ASHA is the professional, scientific, and credentialing association for more than 123,000 members and affiliates who are speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists in the United States and internationally. The purpose of ASHA is to promote the interests of and provide the highest quality services for professionals in audiologist, speech-language pathology, and speech and hearing science, and to advocate for people with communication disabilities.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America (CASANA)

123 Eisele Road
Cheswick, PA 15024

The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association is a non-profit publicly funded charity whose mission is to strengthen the support systems in the lives of children with apraxia so that each child is afforded their best opportunity to develop speech: to provide electronic and print information to families, professionals, policy-makers and other members of the public; to support and educate parents and professionals as advocates for children with apraxia; to facilitate better public policy and services for children affected by the disorder; to provide training opportunities for families and professionals; to encourage research to further understanding about childhood apraxia and to co-sponsor a biennial scientific research symposium.

Cleft Palate Foundation

104 South Estes Drive, Suite 204
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
800.242.5338; 919.933.9044
Email: info@cleftline.org
Web: www.cleftline.org

The Cleft Palate Foundation (CPF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to optimizing the quality of life for individuals affected by facial birth defects. It was founded by the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association in 1973 to be the public service arm of the professional Association. 

International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC)


ISAAC—the International Society for AAC—works to improve the life of every child and adult with speech difficulties. ISAAC provides publications, researches, and events. It describes the many ways to help people who cannot speak or write - things like electronic talking boxes, computers, books and boards with pictures or letters, or sign language. The ISAAC website can display Bliss, PCS or Rebus symbols so that people who use one of these symbol systems instead of text, or who have learning difficulties, will be able to read it.

National Institute on Deafness & Other Communication Disorders


The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) is to provide new knowledge to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat disease and disability.

NIDCD conducts research in laboratories at the NIH, and the Extramural Research Program, a program of research grants, career development awards, individual and institutional research training awards, center grants, and contracts to public and private research institutions and organizations. The Institute also conducts and supports research and research training in disease prevention and health promotion and the special biomedical and behavioral problems associated with people having communication impairments and disorders.

The Stuttering Foundation of America


The Stuttering Foundation provides free online resources, services and support to those who stutter and their families, as well as support for research into the causes of stuttering.

There are several video clips for kids, youth, and teachers. The web site is well organized kids, young, and adult with stuttering. Moreover, they provides visual and research information for teachers and parents.

International Stuttering Association


ISAis a worldwide network of people who stutter, a non-profit umbrella association dedicated to close cooperation among independent national and international self-help organizations of people who stutter. ISA was founded in 1995. It is to provide people who stutter, their family and friends, speech-language pathologists, academics, students and the general public with information on stuttering resources available in world.


General web sites

Web sites for Professionals