Category Archives: Motor Speech Disorders

Causes of speech and language disorders: Some answers to parent’s “why’s”

When parents walk through our door, they often want to know ‘WHY’ their child is not understanding and talking like other children; ‘WHY’ they aren’t pronouncing sounds like others; or ‘WHY’ they’re stuttering. Listed below are some factors that are known to predispose or precipitate speech and language disorders.

Neurological factors: Specific areas in the brain control our speech and language functions. Understanding what others say to us, expressing our thoughts and needs, remembering details of what was said, reading, and writing are all controlled by regions in the brain. There is evidence in the literature to suggest that children with language disorders may have a neurological involvement contributing to their speech and language difficulties. This means that there may be obvious or subtle differences in the brain which makes the child susceptible to a language disorder. No one pattern of brain architecture has been consistently shown in all individuals with language impairments, which makes this all still a bit of a mystery.

Motor and Sensory factors: Our senses serve as channels for us to perceive the external environment. Be it our sense of vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell; they offer us with different ways to perceive things from the external environment. If any of these senses are not functioning optimally, it would limit the essential information that we receive from our environment. For example, children with vision or hearing problems will not be able to use those senses to see by reading, or hear someone speaking in their environment, making them more susceptible to a speech or language disorder. Having adequate motor skills is also essential to speech and language development. Early on, children move around and explore their environment. This exploration fosters early language and cognitive development as they are exposed to new ideas and vocabulary. Children who have limited motor abilities may be at a disadvantage because of not being able to actively explore their environment. Adequate motor abilities are also required for the movement of the voice and oral structures (lips, teeth, tongue etc.) required for speech. Thus, any difficulty with speaking movements may impact a child’s speech and language development.

Cognitive: Intact cognition (the ability to think, know, perceive, judge, reason etc.) is an important foundation on which we build our speech and language skills. Vice versa, developing our speech and language skills helps us improve our cognitive abilities. Hence, children with cognitive challenges may be at risk for developing speech and language disorders. These children may have trouble associating different words with their meanings, remembering words, recognizing patterns and sorting words into different categories, and learning new concepts in general.

Genetic factors: Speech and language disorders tend to run in families, suggesting a possible genetic involvement in causing these disorders. However, it is also true that many people with speech/language disorders’ children do not have any difficulties, and that children with speech/language disorders have no family history of it in the past.

Environmental factors: Environmental information is key in fostering speech and language development. Providing a language rich environment with an adequate amount of stimulation is necessary to support children in developing age-appropriate speech and language skills. Children who have a less language rich environment and stimulation may be at risk for developing speech and language disorders.

Acquired factors: Some individuals may acquire speech and language skills as per typical milestones and then lose some of these skills due to an acquired injury or illness. Some examples of these include a traumatic brain injury, infections such as meningitis, tumors, strokes, etc.

It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive, but is an overview of some of the reasons we may see speech-language disorders.

If you are concerned about  your child’s speech and language development, see a Speech-Language Pathologist to address your concerns.

Nisha Balakrishnan M.A. SLP, Reg. CASLPO
Speech-Language Pathologist
 
The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada
www.speechtherapycentres.com
 

Reference: Paul, R. (2007). Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence- Assessment and Intervention. (3rd ed.). St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby Inc.

How to Help People With Communication Disorders in the Community

Last week I was in Tim Horton’s when I saw a man trying to order a coffee but he was struggling because of a communication disorder. He was having a difficult time being understood by the Tim Horton’s employee and needed help getting his money out of his wallet because of physical difficulties. Although the people around him – both the employee and bystanders – all seemed to want to help the man they were all hesitant and did not seem to know what to do or how to help this man.

One of our jobs as speech-language pathologists is to advocate for those with
communication disorders.  As part of that we try to increase awareness and knowledge on how to interact with people in the community who have various communication disorders. This may include people with disabilities (cerebral palsy, developmental disorders), people who have had a stroke or head injury, people with dementia (such as Alzheimer’s), people who communicate with assistive technology/computers, or people with speech that is difficult to understand. Here are some communication tips that you can use with almost any kind of communication difficulty:

First and foremost – always be respectful and ask the person if they would like your assistance! Remember: a communication disorder does not mean they are unintelligent!!

To help the person understand you:

  • Keep your messages short and to the point (for example: say “Do you want help?” not “I noticed you’re trying to order and I thought that I could help by…)
  • Wait! They may need more time to process the information
  • Keep your message short but grammatically correct so they do not feel that you are insulting them (for example: do not say you….help….get….coffee??”)
  • Repeat if necessary or try to say your message in a different way
  • If they are still having difficulty understanding you, use gestures (pointing to objects or locations) or use objects around you (if they don’t understand “what size coffee do you want?” show them the different sized cups)
  • If open ended questions are difficult (“what do you want?) give choices (“do you want a drink or something to eat?” “do you want coffee or tea?”)

To help the person express themself:

  • Give them specific feedback on what you did not understand. Instead of just saying what?” try saying  “you want a coffee, what do you want in it?”
  • As explained above – if they are still struggling have them gesture, use objects around the room, or give them choices
  • If they are using assistive technology – wait for them to finish creating their message. Avoid reading their message over their shoulder or guessing what they might be saying.
  • Most importantly – be patient, give them time, and don’t give up!
Carla Montgomery, M.H.Sc. SLP(C)
Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO
 
The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada
www.speechtherapycentres.com

Bullying

When I was a kid I had a pet hamster, that I adoringly named Grover. Unfortunately, I was not able to produce my /R/ sound, so Grover shortly became known as “Gwova.” By being teased and imitated at school, I quickly learned what other people heard when I spoke… and I was very embarrassed about my speech. Looking back years later, I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate that this teasing did not lead to bullying, but sadly not the case for most children.

It has been a goal of mine, since becoming a speech-language pathologist, to not only work on the communication difficulty itself, but to target self-esteem. Speech-language pathologists often find themselves faced with the bullying epidemic. They may work in schools, where most bullying typically occurs, or they may work outside of schools, but with students that are frequently susceptible to bullying, for example, children with communication, developmental, and/or social difficulties.

A professor from Pennsylvania State University, Gordon Blood, has done extensive research on bullying and feels that speech-language pathologists have a role in managing and reducing social bullying. Examples of social bullying are: a child not being allowed to join a game, to participate in conversation with peers, or becoming the subject of teasing or negative gossip, in turn causing children to experience emotional and/or academic difficulties. Blood says, “In all bullying, there’s intent to do harm, and a perceived power imbalance.” Speech-language pathologists are in a position where they can often have a strong role in restoring the balance of power that is disrupted in bullying. Instead of encouraging a child to ignore the problem, or pretend not to be bothered, it is recommended that professionals, such as speech-language pathologists, teachers, and parents do the following: 1) Listen to the child. Give them non-interrupted time to speak. 2) Praise the child for discussing the bullying – it can be incredibly hard for children to talk about. 3) Encourage the child to build his or her social network – one or two friends is all most children need to stick up to a bully.

Remember that the common goal for children that experience bullying is to develop their confidence enough to overcome bullying before it has negative effects on their learning and health.

Information obtained from Speech-language pathologists positioned to help victims of bullying, January 7, 2011, written by Gordon Blood, Ingrid Blood, Michael Boyle, and Gina Nalesnik from Pennsylvania State University.

Written by:
Michelle Cameron, M.H.Sc. S-LP(C)
Speech-Language Pathologist, Reg. CASLPO
 
The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada
www.speechtherapycentres.com
 

Help! What does a motor speech disorder mean?

If your child has a motor speech disorder you may notice that he/she can produce specific sounds correctly one time, and differently the next, for example they can say the word “Mom” easily but if they are asked to say “bye Mom” your child suddenly has difficulty. You may also find that they produce more errors in their speech when the sentence is longer or in conversations with others.

The ability to produce speech requires many parts of the brain to work together, beginning with the intent to communicate, and ending with speech production. In between are a series of complicated steps that are susceptible to problems. These steps are what are called a “motor plan”- starting with a thought and ending with a motor movement (lips closing, tongue moving etc.). 

When you see your child trying to produce the sound, moving their mouth as if they are trying to find where to put it, it is because they are trying to coordinate the message from their brain, carry out the sequential movements and hold the correct positions long enough to produce the sound(s). Speech-Language Pathologists work with children to help them build these motor plans by attempting to teach the brain how to sequence the movements the correct way, often practicing sounds using “drill-like” activities.

Research has shown that repetition and having a visual model to follow i.e., watching moms’ face or the S-LP’s mouth movements in therapy, is most effective in building these motor plans. In addition, some children need a prompt to trigger their brains to tell their muscles where to move their lips or tongue, which is why you may see the S-LP using specific placements of their fingers to cue your child. This is only one method of treatment; however there are many ways to help your child with motor speech difficulties.

Work with your S-LP to set goals and create plans together to help make it easier for your child to communicate with others! The brain is a complicated structure- always feel free to ask your S-LP questions and for additional resources.

Written by: Ashleigh Wishen, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada Ltd.