Overcoming childhood speech impediments

by Anna-Bet Stemmet
Overcoming childhood speech Impediments
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Speech impediments can make it hard for children to express themselves. We investigate the most common speech impediments as well as the symptoms, diagnosis and treatments. By Anna-Bet Stemmet

Communication is a vital part of our lives. It helps us connect, express our thoughts, and learn about the world around us. However, some children may experience challenges in speaking clearly due to speech impediments. It’s important to understand that it isn’t done on purpose.

“The good news is that speech impediments are common issues that can be understood and supported with the right information and care. There is also a variety of things that parents can do at home to help their children in this regard,” says Anina Hardcastle, long-time teacher and after-care professional at Kammaland in Malmesbury, Western Cape.

Let’s take a look at five of the most common speech impediments, what causes them, their symptoms, how they are diagnosed, the available professional treatments, and what parents can do at home.

Stuttering

Stuttering happens when a child’s speech flow gets stuck. They might repeat sounds or words, pause for too long, or stretch out sounds. This type of speech impediment can be caused by a variety of factors like genes, brain differences, and how the brain processes speech and language. It can also worsen with anxiety or in pressured environments and situations.

Symptoms:

  • Repeating sounds or words (e.g., “I-I-I want that toy.”)
  • Getting stuck on a sound (e.g., “C-c-c-can I play?”)
  • Long pauses in speech
  • Tense facial expressions while talking

Diagnosis & treatment:

A speech therapist can help diagnose stuttering. They might play games and talk with the child to understand how they speak. Treatment can include special exercises, games, and practice to make talking smoother. The goal is to relieve anxiety and make talking feel easier and less stressful.

Articulation disorders

Articulation is how we make speech sounds using our lips, tongue, and teeth. Kids with articulation disorders have trouble saying certain sounds or words correctly. Sometimes, the muscles needed for speech aren’t quite ready yet. It’s like learning to ride a bike – it takes practice!

Symptoms:

  • Replacing sounds with others (e.g., saying “wabbit” instead of “rabbit”)
  • Dropping sounds from words (e.g., “cat” becomes “ca”)
  • Mixing up sounds in words (e.g., “gog” instead of “dog”)

Diagnosis & treatment:

A speech therapist can check which sounds are hard for the child and help them practice those sounds correctly. Games and fun activities can make it feel like play while improving speech.

Language disorders

Language helps us share thoughts and ideas. Children with language disorders struggle with understanding, speaking, or both. This type of speech impediment can be caused by a variety of factors like genetics, brain differences, and not being around much talking when they were young.

Symptoms:

  • Trouble finding the right words
  • Difficulty understanding what others say
  • Making sentences that are too short or confusing

Diagnosis & treatment:

A speech therapist can evaluate how the child talks, listens, and understands words. They might play games or talk to the child to figure out the best way to help. Treatment could include games, books, and conversations to make language learning fun.

Apraxia of speech

Apraxia of speech happens when the brain struggles to coordinate the muscles used for speech. Kids with this may have a hard time saying sounds, syllables, and words. It’s not fully known what causes apraxia, but it’s not because a child is lazy or not trying.

Symptoms:

  • Making inconsistent speech errors
  • Difficulty saying longer words
  • Pausing between sounds

Diagnosis & treatment:

A speech therapist can diagnose apraxia by seeing how the child says different sounds and words. Treatment involves practicing sounds and words in a slow and steady way. With practice, speaking can become clearer.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE on Dyslexia

Voice disorders

Voice disorders affect how our voices sound. Children with these disorders might have trouble controlling the pitch, volume, or quality of their voices. Voice disorders can be caused by things like using the voice too much, allergies, or even just how the voice box works.

Symptoms:

  • Speaking too softly or loudly all the time
  • Having a rough or hoarse voice
  • Voice breaks or cuts out

Diagnosis & treatment:

A speech therapist can listen to the child’s voice and see how they talk. They might give advice on how to care for the voice and exercises to make it stronger. Resting the voice and drinking water can also help.

ALSO READ Speech & hearing development

What parents can do at home to help

While professional help from a speech therapist is valuable, there are also home support options available for parents who might be facing financial constraints. Let’s explore some practical ways to help your child with speech difficulties at home, without breaking the bank. Stuttering in children

Practice, patience & encouragement. Being patient and understanding with your child is key. Give them the time they need to express themselves. Encourage them to speak by showing interest in their stories and ideas. Your positive attitude can boost their confidence and motivation to communicate.

Reading time is learning time. Reading aloud to your child is a fantastic way to improve their language skills. Choose books that have clear and repetitive words. Point to the words as you read and ask your child to repeat after you. This can help them practice articulating different sounds.

Play fun language games. Games like “Simon Says,” rhyming games, and “I Spy” can be both entertaining and educational. These games encourage your child to listen carefully and practice speaking in a relaxed setting.

Sing songs together. Singing songs with catchy tunes can be an enjoyable way to enhance your child’s speech. Songs often emphasise sounds and syllables, helping your child practice different speech patterns.

Create a supportive environment. Ensure your home is a comfortable place for your child to communicate. Avoid interrupting them when they’re speaking and provide ample opportunities for them to express themselves without feeling rushed.

Mimic & repeat. If your child mispronounces a word, gently repeat the word back to them correctly. Children often learn by imitating, and this simple technique can help them learn the right way to say words.

Record & playback. With smartphones or simple recording devices, you can record your child’s speech and play it back to them. This lets them hear their own voice, which can aid in identifying areas that need improvement.

Use visual aids. Create flashcards with images and words that your child finds challenging. Seeing the words alongside the images can help them associate the correct sounds with the corresponding objects.

Regular conversations. Have meaningful conversations with your child. Talk about their day, interests, and experiences. This helps build their vocabulary and encourages them to communicate more effectively.

Provide positive feedback. When your child makes progress, celebrate their achievements. Positive reinforcement can boost their self-esteem and motivation to keep working on their speech.

Celebrate effort, not perfection. Remember that progress takes time. Focus on the effort your child puts into improving their speech, rather than perfection. Small steps forward are important achievements. It’s all about practice to form new habits.

By incorporating these simple and affordable strategies into your daily routine, you can provide meaningful support and help them overcome speech impediments. Remember, your encouragement and love are the most important resources you can provide on this journey of improvement.

“If you notice any of these common speech challenges in your child, remember it’s not their fault. A speech therapist can help diagnose the issue and work with them to improve their communication skills. With a little patience and practice, parents can also help their children to develop clearer and more confident speech, allowing them to connect and express themselves with greater ease,” Anina encourages.

READ Signs your child needs to see an audiologist or speech therapist

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