What is Speech Impairment? - Definition, Causes & Characteristics

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:37 Characteristics & Types
  • 1:40 Causes
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Did you know that millions of people in the United States have some type of speech impairment? Learn more about the different types of speech impairment, their causes, and the characteristics associated with impaired speech in this lesson.

Definition of Speech Impairment

A speech impairment is a condition in which the ability to produce speech sounds that are necessary to communicate with others is impaired. Speech impairments can be mild, such as occasionally mispronouncing a couple of words, to severe, such as not being able to produce speech sounds at all.

We rely on speech as one of the primary methods of communicating with others. An impairment in speech can significantly impact our ability to communicate. Speech impairments in childhood can have a negative influence on social development. Speech impairments at all stages of life can lead to social isolation, embarrassment, and shame.

Characteristics and Types of Speech Impairments

There are three types of speech impairments, each with their own set of characteristics. The three types are:

  1. Articulation disorders
  2. Fluency disorders
  3. Voice disorders

Articulation disorders are characterized by the distortion or absence of speech sounds. An example of an articulation disorder is trouble pronouncing blended sounds, such as 'sp.' A child who has trouble with this may incorrectly pronounce 'spaghetti' as 'thaghetti.'

Fluency disorders, also known as disfluency, are characterized by an interruption or break in the normal flow of speech, such as stuttering. Another example is the false start, which is when you say something, but stop in the middle of your sentence and restart with a new idea, for example, 'I really liked, it is so cold outside.'

Voice disorders are characterized by impairments in the voice, including loudness, vocal quality, and pitch. For example, throat cancer can decrease the quality and pitch of your voice and make it difficult for others to understand you.

Causes of Speech Impairments

The cause of a speech impairment may be very difficult to determine, especially in cases of disfluencies or articulation disorders. Known causes of speech impairments include:

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