Communication Disorders

Most children develop speech and language in a particular pattern. First babies learn to understand speech, and to produce the speech sounds that are used in their native language. Later they put these sounds together to make words, and then begin combining those words to communicate their needs. As children grow and learn, they pick up on the rules of grammar, as well as nonverbal communication signals that are used in our society (e.g., drawing attention to something by first looking at the person with whom you communicating and then looking at the thing you want them to look at too). Some children, however, do not meet all of these milestones, or are delayed significantly in meeting them. These children, who may or may not have other disabilities, are usually diagnosed with a communication disorder or delay.

Communication disorders involve problems related to speech production, using and understanding language, as well as hearing. Communication Disorders may be divided broadly into Speech/Language Impairments and Hearing Impairments. Speech/Language Impairments include delays in speech and language skills, stuttering (which is also called a fluency disorder), voice disorders, difficulty with articulation or producing speech sounds, and aphasia or difficulty using or understanding words. Disorders in using language can be caused by a developmental disability, such as Autism, or acquired later in life as through a Traumatic Brain Injury. Hearing Impairments can occur because of damage to or malformation of the actual structures in the ear, or because the brain misinterprets sounds.

Some people with severe communication disorders are unable to express themselves in a typical fashion. Read the following quotes by individuals with such disorders and consider what it would feel like if you could not express your needs, wants, thoughts and feelings to those around you.  

 "I know what it is like to be fed potatoes all my life. After all, potatoes are such good basic food for everyday, easy to fix in many different ways. I hate potatoes! But then, who knew that but me? I know what it is like to be dressed in reds and blues when my favorite colors are mint greens, lemon yellows, and pinks. I mean can you really imagine?"

Sara Brothers (1991, p.59)

"If you want to know what it is like to be unable to speak, there is a way. Go to a party and don't talk. Play mute. Use your hands if you wish but don't use paper and pencil. Paper and pencil are not always handy for a mute person. Here is what you will find: people talking; talking behind, beside, around, over under and through, and even for you. But never with you. You are ignored until finally you feel like a piece of furniture." Rick Creech

(Musselwhite & St Louis, 1988, p104)

 Write at least one page about the importance of the use of speech and language in your life. What aspects would not be the same if you were unable to communicate in this way? What difficulties would this cause for you? How would you feel (frustrated, angry)?

Read the following bill of rights that was presented by the National Joint Committee for the Communication needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities in 1992. Consider the following and write out your responses: Which of these rights do you feel are the most important? Are there any forms of communication not included in this bill of rights that you would feel lost without? If so, what are they? 

 All people with a disability of any extent or severity have a basic right to affect, through communication, the conditions of their existence. All people have the following specific communication rights in their daily interactions. These rights are summarized from the Communication Bill of Rights put forth in 1992 by the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities.

Each person has the right to
  • request desired objects, actions, events and people
  • refuse undesired objects, actions, or events
  • express personal preferences and feelings
  • be offered choices and alternatives
  • reject offered choices
  • request and receive another person's attention and interaction
  • ask for and receive information about changes in routine and environment
  • receive intervention to improve communication skills
  • receive a response to any communication, whether or not the responder can fulfill the request
  • have access to AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) and other AT (assistive technology) services and devices at all times
  • have AAC and other AT devices that function properly at all times
  • be in environments that promote one's communication as a full partner with other people, including peers
  • be spoken to with respect and courtesy
  • be spoken to directly and not be spoken for or talked about in the third person while present
  • have clear, meaningful and culturally and linguistically appropriate communications
From the National Joint Committee for the Communicative Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities. (1992). Guidelines for meeting the communication needs of persons with severe disabilities. ASHA, 34(Suppl. 7), 2–3.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. How does your child hear and talk? Retrieved from website:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Ad Hoc Committee on Service Delivery in the Schools. (1992). Definitions of communication disorders and variations. Retrieved from website:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, The National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities. (1992).Communication bill of rights. Retrieved from website: