Verbal Expression and Effective Communication: Understanding and Overcoming Communication Disorders


Students need to understand ideas, issues, concepts, rules, processes, and skills. Throughout their school years, students must be able to communicate their knowledge and produce work that is reflective of what they are learning.

Being able to clearly articulate thoughts and ideas orally or in written form is important in order to be able to show what you know. Often the student understands and learns the work for an assessment but struggles to explain the work in the test and underperforms. They might also not be able to write enough to earn the correct mark allocation. For some individuals have serious problems producing a sufficiently clear voice quality, which we describe as a voice disorder, and others are unable to comprehend the language that others produce, described as a receptive language disorder. If a person is unable to produce fluent speech or speech of an appropriate rhythm and rate, this would be a fluency disorder, also known as stuttering.Communication Disorders

How communication disorders are defined:

Communication is the sharing of information and comprises different functions such as seeking social interaction, requesting objects, sharing and rejecting ideas, etc. It involves the sender of the information and the recipient being able to understand the message. It can involve oral language but also nonverbal interaction such as body language.

A communication disorder implies that the ability to send, receive, process, and comprehend ideas, facts, feelings, and desires, as well as language and speech or both, is impaired, including hearing, listening, reading, writing, or speaking.

A speech disorder affects the production and use of oral language meaning that the individual will struggle to make the speech sounds, produce speech with a normal flow, and produce a normal-sounding voice.

A fluency disorder is an interruption in the flow of speaking characterized by atypical rate, rhythm, and repetitions in sounds, syllables, words, and phrases.

A voice disorder is seen as the abnormal production and/or absence of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, and/or duration, that is inappropriate for the person’s age and/or gender.

A language disorder includes problems with comprehension and expression including impairments in phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Language disorders may involve one or a combination of the above subsystems of language.

A communication difference, on the other hand, is not a language disorder but rather a learning barrier that may require special teaching and is often related to their culture or primary disability, such as hearing impairments or cerebral palsy. This also would include children who are learning a language that is not their primary language.

Language development occurs as milestones are reached:

Newborn to 12 months – babbling, gurgling, gesturing, imitation, listening.

12 months – 18 months – speaks first words and combines words

By 2 years – sentences of 3 to 4 words are used (develop a vocabulary of around 100 words)

By 4 years – longer sentences are used, verb tenses and pronunciations are childish, asks questions and tell rambling stories

By 6 or 7 years – the basics of the language have been mastered, begins to learn to write sounds and basic words

By 8 years – all English sounds have been acquired.

Adolescence – Able to partake in conversations,

Adults – Vocabulary is between 30 000 – 60 000, and different styles of communicating with different audiences and for different purposes.

A child with a language disorder may eventually reach many or most of the milestones that are shown for normal development, but later down the line than typically developing children. Children also sometimes do catch up in language development, especially with interventions that are implemented early, but they can also fall behind again at a later stage.Speech Language Pathologist

The major disorders of language and how they might impact the student’s learning:

Speech disorders pose a variety of challenges to the communication abilities of school children and most are treated primarily by speech-language pathologists, and not by the class teacher. However, it is expected that the teacher works closely with the speech-language pathologist in assessment and intervention.

Phonological disorders usually occur in children younger than 9 years of age and these children don’t seem to understand how to produce the sounds of their language nor do they understand how to differentiate and produce the phonemes or sounds of language in order to form words that can be understood. The difference between having a phonological disorder and having an articulation disorder is that with a phonological disorder, the individual has a poor inner representation of the language sounds (produce ha as a hat or do as a dog) whereas with an articulation disorder, the individual struggles to produce/pronounce the sounds (says vat as that or thwim as swim).

Voice disorders are sometimes difficult to define precisely, and are characteristics of pitch, loudness, and/or quality that are abusive of the larynx, can hamper communication, or are perceived as different from what is normal for someone of a given age, gender, and cultural background.

Fluency disorders affect speech flow and include hesitations, repetitions, and other interruptions of normal speech flow. The most common type of fluency disorder is stuttering. About 1% of the population are stutterers and it is more common in boys than in girls. Early diagnosis is important to avoid the condition from becoming chronic resulting in the inability to communicate effectively and affecting the individual’s self-esteem.

Motor-speech disorders affect the muscles that are responsible for producing speech sounds. When damage occurs to the areas of the brain that control these muscles or to the nerves leading to the muscles, the ability to speak normally is affected. Apraxia is a result of poor planning and co-ordinating speech and dysarthria involves controlling the speech sounds. Both affect the production of speech, slow its rate, and reduce intelligibility.

Educational considerations for communication disorders (CD):

The following 10 activities can help to improve expressive language development (speaking and writing):

– Listen sympathetically which makes the child feel good about language and will encourage him to speak and listen to others when they are speaking,

– Never force a child to speak or punish a child for not speaking and this includes frowning or showing signs of disapproval,

– Using dramatizations, role play and other acting experiences such as interviewing a TV personality or telephone conversations will encourage participation,

– Reading to children for a short while every day provides an opportunity to hear “book language” on a level that many of them can’t read for themselves and so allows them to experience the enjoyment of reading,

– Try to encourage children to use full sentences when they speak,

– Pose these sorts of questions to children, what would happen if… and what do you think about … and how does that happen?

– Encourage rapid-fire games that encourage fluency i.e. name as many rivers as you can, or what fruits start with ‘p’,

– Extend the child’s interest in his environment by discussing topics like “father’s work” or “different kinds of transport”,

– Discuss cause and effect relationships…clouds and rain, water, and taps, as well as knowing the difference between fact and opinion,

– Build up categories of words by asking what various things have in common, i.e. apple, orange, banana, and pineapple (fruit)

The following activities can help to improve receptive language development (listening and understanding):

– Provide plenty of opportunities for children to listen and follow instructions but keep them simple to start with giving one or two at a time,

– Ask questions that require an elaborate answer, i.e. “Does water run uphill?” vs “Why won’t water run uphill?”

– Match learning with experience by demonstrating something that is needed to be learned and understood, i.e. evaporation or measurement,

– Teach homonyms and homophones by using them in sentences, i.e. “The FLY tried to FLY in the air”, or “I found a ripe, yellow pear in my pair of shoes”.

– Teach key vocabulary words in questions, i.e. “What is the sum of 3 and 4”, or give the synonym for small”.Speach Therapist

The primary purpose of a language assessment is to inform instruction and intervention. A support plan must consider the following:

– What the child talks about and should be taught to talk about,

– How the child talks about things and how the child could be taught to speak of those things in a more intelligible way,

– How the child uses language and how the child’s language use could be made to serve the purposes of communication and socialization more effectively.

If, as the teacher, you suspect that the child has a language delay or disorder, suggest to the parent that they consult a speech and language pathologist to enquire about an assessment to determine what the child can do and where further support is required. The feedback report following the assessment will include recommendations and suggestions that the parent and teacher can implement. Usually, a follow-up assessment can be done after 6 or 12 months.

If language is delayed, it simply means that the same sequence of development occurs but just at a later-than-average age. However, some children may not outgrow this developmental lag, due to having intellectual disabilities or growing up in an environment where they were deprived of language enrichment and stimulation, or they may have been neglected or abused. We know that the first several years of a child’s life are truly critical for language learning.

If teaching is built around the child’s interests, progress might be quicker than if the child is exposed to language that has no relevance or that is too abstract. Early intervention programs involve extending the role of the parent and teacher in some cases, encouraging play with accompanying verbalizations. It means talking about objects and activities, choosing objects and activities, and words, and consequences for the child’s vocalizations.

Usually, the best results in an intervention plan are when the speech and language pathologist and parent and teacher work closely together to achieve the same objectives. Also, peers can be taught to assist too, by doing the following during play or conversation: establish eye contact, describe their own or others’ play, and repeat, expand, or request clarification of what the child with the CD says.

The older child or adolescent, they might require their own training and support programs. If there is a writing, reading, or spelling disorder that has been properly diagnosed by a clinical or educational psychologist, various concessions can be requested especially during the exam time, such as having a reader/scribe or extra time. This is the reason why the teacher plays such a pivotal role in ensuring that this support is in place. In many cases, these students might have been formerly seen as having primarily academic and social problems that were not language-related.

Education Services can assist with drawing up this intervention support plan that identifies 2 or 3 main areas where the student might require additional concessions or accommodations in the classroom. The teachers and other therapists or tutors can then work with the support plan.

Now it is better understood that underlying many or most of the school and social difficulties of young people are basic disorders of language.

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