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Speech and Language Problems a Lesson for Teachers

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Speech impairments are problems encountered in the oral production of language. Language problems may involve a lack of understanding (receptive) and/or using language (expressive). Many children will encounter some of the following problems during various stages of their development. Note: By seven or eight years of age, a child should be able to articulate all sounds.

Physical and Behavioral Characteristics


The child with speech problems may:

  1. Have an open mouth position, often breathing through mouth.
    Could be enlarged tonsils, allergies, Retardation
  2. Have excessive drooling
  3. Have poor eating habits, e.g. mess, limited swallowing and chewing
    Cleft Lip/Palate
    Developmental/’maturational lags
  4. Become easily frustrated, stamping feet and blinking eyes
    Tension (Is pressure being placed on the child?)
  5. Have frequent upper respiratory and ear infections; frequent absenteeism.
  6. Lack eye contact
  7. Have poor motor coordination.
    Cultural/ESL/ESD, Motor problems

Articulation Speech Sounds

The child’s symptoms may include:

  1. Distortion of standard sounds
    Could be hearing impairment
  2. Substitutions of one sound for another.
    Could be cleft lip/palate
  3. Omission of sounds that should be present
    Could be Cerebral Palsy, development delay
  4. Irrelevant sounds
    Could be lack of experience (hasn’t heard correct pronunciation)

Voice Sounds

The child’s voice may be unusual due to:

  1. Quality – hoarse, nasal, breathy, husky
    Could be missing teeth, enlarged tonsils/adenoids
  2. Pitch – monotone, too high, or too low
    Could be nodules
  3. Intensity (volume)- too loud or too soft
    Could be cleft lip/palate

Fluency (rhythm)

The child may exhibit:

  1. Hesitations
    Hearing Impairment, poor speech models
  2. Repetitions
    Developmental and of no consequence (child may think faster than she can form the words)
  3. Prolongations
  4. Blockages when attempting to speak, such as stuttering (dysfluency), stammering
    Behavioral/Social/Emotional Problems


The child with language problems may

  1. Have or have had a frequent ear infections
    Hearing Impairment
  2. Be hyperactive or hypoactive
    Attention Deficit Disorder
  3. Have poor motor coordination
    Motor Problems
  4. Lack body/eye contact
  5. Repeat certain verbal responses over and over
  6. Become easily frustrated or distracted.
    Learning Disabilities
  7. Have a poor attention span.
  8. Have poor skills in how to learn.
  9. Perform better on nonverbal tasks than verbal tasks>
  10. Have delayed pre-academic and academic skills

Receptive Language (comprehension)

The child has difficulty understanding the spoken word.

The child may:

  1. Have a history of delayed language development
    Could be developmental delay
  2. Have poor listening skills
    Hearing Impairment, ear infection
  3. Cover her ears, lack or avoid eye contact; turn away.
    Overly sensitive hearing, fear in a new situation
  4. Understand only a few words or phrases
  5. Find it difficult to follow simple commands
  6. Not carry out verbal instructions unless accompanied by gestures.
  7. Not attend to class discussions, stories, or group time (tunes out).
    Deprived home environment.
  8. Have a short attention span
    First experience in a structured setting.
  9. Frequently repeat what you have said
    Autism, Attentions Deficit Disorder
  10. Ask for frequent repetitions of instructions,
    Learning Disabilities
  11. Have inappropriate facial expressions or appear confused when listening.
    Hearing Impairment
  12. Not retain new words taught
     Behavioral/Social/Emotional Problems
  13. Appear to have good verbal skills but quality of content is limited.
  14. Find it difficult to remember the sequence of tasks in pictures used to tell a familiar story.
  15. Respond to only part of information, possibly an unimportant detail.
    Attention Deficit Disorder
  16. Not have a sense of humor, not be able to find absurdities in pictures, and so on.
  17. Have difficulty classifying objects in picture.
  18. Have difficulty choosing the correct answer to a question if not given visual clues.
  19. Have difficulty remembering important personal information, such as address and phone number.
  20. Have problems with reading, especially use of phonetic skills.
  21. Have difficulty in keeping track of where she is when doing seatwork or reading.
    Visual Impairment
  22. Not understand what she has read.
  23. Have problems with spelling.

Expressive Language

(The child has difficulty expressing her ideas.)

The child may:

  1. Have a history of delayed language.
  2. Have language that is immature; may use only simple word combinations, such as nouns and verbs.
  3. Have limited vocabulary.
    Developmental delay
  4. Have improper use of words and word order.
    Deprived home environment, poor speech models at home
  5. Use many nonverbal gestures and sounds to communicate.
    First experience in a structured setting and child is scared/withdrawn
  6. Not use any gestures or sounds to communicate.
  7. Be unable to relate events with ideas (ideas are jumbled, not in logical sequence, therefore the child worries about changes in routines or what is happening next).
  8. Express ideas but in a disorganized fashion.
    Attention Deficit Disorder
  9. Respond inappropriately to questions or situations.
    Hearing Impairment
  10. Find it difficult to retrieve and recall words she knows.
  11. Find it difficult to describe items or situations without visual clues.
  12. Have frequent grammatical errors.
  13. Use incomplete sentences (nouns, pronouns, or verbs may be missing).
  14. Communicate on topics of her choice, but avoid teacher-chosen topics.
  15. Have immediate or delayed echolalia (repeating words just heard).
  16. Be able to express ideas and use words effectively, but is selective as to where or to whom she will talk (“Elective mutism”).
    Note: a child who has previously talked may stop talking
  17. Not spontaneously contribute ideas or initiate conversation unless coaxed.
    Learning Disabilities
  18. Find it difficult to sequence numbers or letters in the alphabet.
    Motor problems
  19. Have poor printing skills.
  20. Have difficulty with reading (sounding out words).
    Little experience with peers
  21. Have more difficulty than most children with early written communication
  22. Exhibit delayed social behavior; poor peer interaction


  • Inform parents if you have concerns.
  • Encourage good chewing during mealtimes
  • Observe and record situations when and where tension occurs.
  • Try to involve the child in activities that involve speaking, but do not single her out in any way. House-corner dramatic play and singing and chanting games are all appropriate.
  • A physical checkup is recommended.
  • Model correct pronunciation.
  • A hearing test may be recommended.
  • A speech assessment may be recommended.
  • Record (using tape recorder, or in writing) a sample of the child’s speech patterns.
  • Do not interrupt the child.
  • Do not rush the child.
  • Do not pressure or demand that the child talk.
  • Look at the child while she is talking.
  • Model smooth speech.
  • Observe and record other developmental skills.
  • Carry out a developmental assessment.
  • Recommend a speech assessment.
  • Obtain the child’s attention before speaking.
  • Use simple, uncomplicated language.
  • Name and label objects.
  • Develop games in which the child learns to recognize animal and environmental sounds.
  • Provide activities for listening, such as giving instructions and having the child follow them.
  • Model language and use nonverbal cues.
  • Encourage dramatic play, play with puppets, and so on.
  • Involve the child in short, satisfying experiences. Remember that her attention span for listening is likely to be shorter than that of other children her age.
  • Make frequent eye contact with the child.
  • Praise the child for correct responses.
  • Talk about what the child is doing.
  • Give information clearly.
  • Read simple stories, stressing sequence.
  • Describe events in stories, using visual clues.
  • Use songs and records to facilitate listening skills.
  • Provide repetition to help the child remember and learn new words.
  • Provide plenty of visual and tactile experiences; bring in concrete objects when introducing a new idea.
  • Give the child experiential learning, such as trips (to farms, stores, fire station, post office, bakery), walks, and cooking activities.
  • Plan themes and follow up with opportunities for sequential learning, using experiential (physically acting out) activities, pictures, and trips to clarify concepts.
  • Use repetition and a variety of media to ensure that the concept is comprehended.
  • Provide matching games (lotto-type).
  • Try to involve parents, encouraging them to carry out parallel types of activities at home. Perhaps the center could provide a journal/communication book, giving brief feedback on ideas to talk about, activities to encourage, and experiences the child has had in school.
  • Opportunities for success are extremely important.
  • Record a sample of the child‘s language patterns.
  • Do not draw attention to the child’s difficulty.
  • Model correct language (incorporate child’s idea in your response to her).
  • Expand the child’s utterances by adding additional comments.
  • Allow the child to answer questions at her level, praising any attempt she makes.
  • Encourage communication by choosing activities that facilitate language, such as games in which the child has to express her needs.
  • Help the child obtain the correct response by providing visual clues and modeling correct response, if necessary.
  • Praise the child for correct responses.
  • Give the child as much time as needed to express herself.
  • If a child has a mispronunciations, or poor word order, do not make the child repeat it correctly, but model the correct pronunciation/word order in your next sentence.
  • Start with simple language constructions, such as nouns and verbs, then work up to more complex ones, such as simple phrases and simple sentences.
  • Provide multiple verbal or visual choice for a child who may have problems finding a desired word.
  • Plan experiential activities like trips that can be followed up with recall through dramatic play, writing/dictating stories, conversation, pictures, and so on.
  • A speech assessment is recommended.
  • Develop a pictorial chart of attributes to augment the child’s descriptive vocabulary, showing through pictures quantity, quality, size, shape, position in space, and color.
  • Provide many opportunities for group singing, finger plays, nursery rhymes, and stories.
  • Concepts such as position in space and quantity can also be taught through music and body movement.
  • Involve the child in small group interactions.
  • Try to maintain eye contact.
  • Do not push the child to read. Language development is a prerequisite for reading.
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