How to support children with speech and language disorders

What you need to know:

  • When he is excited, stressed, or frustrated, it becomes worse. His grandparents took him to a witch doctor alleging that a relative, with whom they are not on good terms, bewitched their grandson. Of course, nothing came of the “treatment” there.

Garvin is a 10-year-old boy, who lives in Rakai District with his grandparents. He stutters so much it causes aggressiveness when he struggles to utter a word. He bangs and throws items around him.

When he is excited, stressed, or frustrated, it becomes worse. His grandparents took him to a witch doctor alleging that a relative, with whom they are not on good terms, bewitched their grandson. Of course, nothing came of the “treatment” there.

Speech disorders and language disorders are different; the former is the inability or difficulty to form sounds that create words, while the latter is the inability or difficulty to learn words or understand what others are saying to them. Garvin suffers from the former, In some cases, a child can suffer from both, especially those with autism. This makes it extremely difficult for them to express themselves.   

Speech disorders

Fluency disorder or stuttering, interrupts the flow of speech. There are two types here: developmental stuttering which affects children who are still developing their speech skills and neurogenic stuttering, which occurs when the brain is damaged and unable to coordinate the functions of the body related to speech.

It is characterised by the repetition of words, prolongations and blocks in speech. The child experiences tension in the fists, neck, face, and shoulders.      

Articulation disorders manifests as an inability to form speech sounds to produce rightly articulated words. Voice disorders are characterised by unusual pitch, quality, resonance, or volume.

Language disorder

Language disorders present in form of expressive language, where a child has difficulty in expressing himself with words not sounds, receptive language disorder, difficulty in understanding what the child is told and mixed language disorder; where a child struggles to understand others.   

Parents are usually the first to notice their child’s speech and language difficulties because they are the primary caregivers. Often, they struggle with understanding them and how best they should support them. This article is about that. 

Possible causes

Hearing loss, degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, neurological disorders such as autism, traumatic brain injury, stroke, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy and birth defects such as Down syndrome are known to cause speech challenges.

Others include muscle weakness in the tongue, throat, chest, lips, genetic disorders, malnutrition, physical impairment such as cleft lip, cancer that affects head and neck region, vocal abuse and premature births.

Medical intervention

Early intervention in form of detection, evaluation, and diagnosis of the nature of the child’s speech and language difficulty is vital. Alice Nalukwago, a private speech therapist and volunteer at Uganda Cancer Institute says: “Depending on age, severity, underlying condition, and type of disorder, a speech therapist will design a treatment plan when he or she has a clear view of the person’s communication difficulties. This plan, she says, includes interventions such as training early communication such as imitation, eye contact, attention and listening skills. “Articulation therapy involves practicing proper articulation of sounds in words and sentences by coordinating the movement of lips, tongue, teeth and voice therapy involves vocal exercises for people with voice disorders.

Feeding and swallowing therapy on the other hand trains a patient in techniques for safe swallowing and food modification strategies and auditory verbal therapy supports children to listen and speak through hearing technology.

Be patient with the child

Mind your language when talking to these children. In some cases like stuttering, it might have been a speech and language delay depending on the severity, but experts say given time, it can reduce as the child grows.

Physical activities

Just because they are impaired in a way should not mean that they can do nothing on their own. Allow them to do some age-appropriate, ability-friendly chores around the home to build their confidence. Also allow them to participate in physical games such as swimming, riding bikes, which boosts their brain power, blood circulation and food digestion. 

Focus on their interests

 They certainly have interests. Nurture them in that direction. Also talk to them regularly, read them a book, sing them songs, imitate sounds, use gestures, to develop their understanding and build their language and speech skills. 

Enroll them in schools

  Look out for those schools that offer services such as speech therapy and special needs education. This helps children socialise with others. Keep tabs on what is happening to your children while at school to ensure the child’s school experience is pleasant. 

Make time for this child

 Listen to them, play with them and provide a safe space. They can be supported to live their full potential if there is full involvement of the parents.