man on a laptop learning about language disorders

Is a Language Disorder a Speech Disorder?

It is common to hear the words “speech” and “language” used interchangeably, but the truth is they are actually two separate things. While they may mean the same thing when we are talking about oral communication in a general sense, in the Speech-Language Pathology community these two terms have important distinguishing factors. Speech and language disorders are relatively common among children and adults and speech-language pathologists are experts when it comes to providing help and support to those affected. You can learn more about speech and language disorders and how speech therapy can help by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What is the Difference Between a Speech Disorder and a Language Disorder?

‘Speech’ refers to the ability to produce specific sounds and sound combinations. It is the oral form of communication, the sound of spoken word, it is the act of talking using the lips, tongue, jaw, and vocal tract to produce specific and properly articulated sounds. ‘Language’ on the other hand refers to the complex system of words and symbols, their appropriate uses, and their meanings. Language can be written, spoken, or expressed through gestures and facial expressions to convey meaning. 

So, just as there are differences between speech and language, there are differences between speech and language disorders. A speech disorder usually means that there are difficulties and challenges related to producing certain sounds or sound combinations. A speech disorder can also affect the fluency and accuracy of speech, such as a stutter or lisp. Language disorders relate to challenges around the comprehension of the meaning of words or phrases, and someone affected by a language disorder may also struggle to express themselves appropriately and correctly through language. A child who can speak well and articulate their sounds clearly and correctly can still struggle with word meaning and have a language disorder. Conversely, a child who has a strong understanding of language and word meaning as well as an extensive vocabulary, can still struggle with sound production and have a speech disorder. Speech and language disorders can occur separately (meaning one can be affected by only one of these) however they can also both be diagnosed in one individual. 

What Type of Disorder is a Language Disorder?

Language disorders are a type of communication disorder. Those who aren’t familiar with the term may think a language disorder is related to speech production, but it is actually related to the ability to understand and employ the use of language. 

Is Expressive Language Disorder a Speech Disorder?

Expressive Language disorder is one of the three most common types of language disorders. In most cases language disorders are developmental and signs can be identified in early childhood. However, illness or traumatic brain injury can also result in a language disorder. While it is unlikely for one to grow out of this disorder, it is possible for a person with an expressive language disorder to develop a solid understanding of language through support and treatment from a Speech-language pathologist. Some of the most common signs of an expressive language disorder are: 

  • Having a vocabulary with a lower number of words than average
  • Trouble finding or retrieving words
  • Using words inappropriately or incorrectly
  • Using very vague or generic words like “stuff” or “thing”
  • Speaking in short sentences or offering one-word answers
  • Is generally late to begin talking as a very young child
  • Leaving out or skipping words when speaking

In most cases, people with an expressive language disorder have difficulty expressing themselves and getting their message across. 

What Causes a Language Disorder?

Language disorders can be either developmental or acquired. An acquired language disorder means that it was the result of another medical condition (such as a stroke), brain injury, or neurological illness. A developmental language disorder could be hereditary and will often appear in early childhood. It does not indicate any lack of intelligence or mental capacities, and children with a language disorder will often manage quite well academically and struggle only to be understood by others when they are speaking. 

Both developmental and acquired language disorders can be helped through time with a speech-language pathologist.  

How Can I Support my Child with a Language Disorder?

There are a few key simple things you can do with your child to work on their speech and language skills every day. The most obvious of this is to simply talk to your child frequently, and listen with your full attention and patience when they are communicating with you. Reading is another great activity that children love and has major benefits for their language development. Allow your child space to ask you questions, and also allow them time to answer yours. You can read more about activities that help with speech and language development here. If you want to learn more about how you can support your child’s learning and development when it comes to language skills, schedule your free introductory call today!

How Can Speech Therapy Help with a Language Disorder?

It is common for people affected by a language disorder to avoid or completely stop speaking altogether. They may have become so frustrated or ashamed that they give up. They may also choose not to interact with friends, family, classmates, and colleagues. Working with a speech-language pathologist is a very important part of helping someone with a language disorder to build their expression and comprehension skills, as well as helping them to build confidence and a sense of mastery over time. 

Speech therapists are experts in the delivery and comprehension of spoken language. They possess a deep understanding of verbal cues and cognitive links to communication problems. Speech therapists can also help to train the mind to understand the complex and plentiful rules of language. These skills are acquired through listening, observing, and interacting with others. In some cases, the brain has difficulty creating those connections. A speech therapist can help someone with a language disorder understand and master the common patterns of oral speech and language techniques.

Language disorders can be treated, but early intervention is deeply important. If left untreated, a language disorder can cause problems for your child academically, socially, and emotionally. If you wonder if your child has a language disorder, it is best to seek help and guidance from a speech-language pathologist as soon as possible. Get started today and schedule your free introductory call now!