How/why do speech impediments happen?


How/why do speech impediments happen?

In: Biology

Not all speech impediments can be traced to the same cause. Some may be the result of under-developed musculature in the face and tongue, in which case speech therapy will likely be particularly effective. Some may be the result of neurological damage in speech or language regions of the brain. Some may be psychosomatic, due to traumatic experiences or mental illnesses.

The Palate is the upper roof of your mouth. As it develops if it fails to close you develop a cleft palate. I underwent surgery to close the cleft and had speech therapy during elementary school. Still I had a nasally speech and had problems in socializing. Why speech impediments happen is above my pay grade. I have a speech impediment, recently a stroke, I’m disabled on my right side, I can only use one hand, I can only walk a short distance, so a speech impediment is the least of my worries.

I had a lisp as a child and I know why—when people say “th”, there’s a bit of a whistling sound, the same way an “s” has a whistling sound. So I *thought* when I said “th” that I was making a “s” sound. Basically I was mistaken in how to make that sound. Once this was made clear to me, and I was shown how to make an “s”, I did it correctly.

Oooh what a great question. The unsatisfactory answer is that you could do a 2 year undergraduate program and 2 year master’s degree program in speech-language pathology and still not have a clear simple answer to that question. Often times we don’t know a precise answer, though every once in awhile we do. Let me break it down a little.

For a child in the US between the ages of 3-21 (I have no clue how disability services work in any other country), there are 4 distinct areas in which they can qualify for a communication disorder. Each area has its set of potential causes.

The first area is a voice disorder. This can happen for a number of reasons but the main common factor is that there is damage to the vocal folds, sometimes temporary sometimes permanent. The 2 most common reasons this happens is from intubation in an emergency situation. When it come down to it sometimes breathing is more important in the moment than tissue damage. Or vocal nodules. Adele is a great example of this. She sings in a horse voice that is thought of as “sexy” but requires a great deal of strain on your vocal folds. She is lucky that her nodules were removed without permanently damaging her voice, but since she’s still singing the same way post surgery long term results aren’t encouraging. In kids we sometimes see this from lots of yelling, sometimes in conjunction with things like severe allergies that dry out your throat.

The second area of eligibility is fluency. The main disorder in this category is stuttering. There is no for sure 100% clear cause for stuttering but there are some trends we know. The first trend is that there seems to be a genetic component. About 75% of people who stutter have a close family member who stutters. Anxiety also often plays a part. There is a much higher likelihood that someone who stutters also has some sort of anxiety especially around speaking. A common misconception not to long ago was that parenting style caused stuttering, but this is not the case.

The last 2 areas of eligibilities are a child’s language skills, for example they’re ability to understand and form complex sentences, learn new words and form their ideas into sentences, and a child’s articulation/phonology, which is their ability to clearly articulate all the different speech sounds needed to speak and be understood. These areas are a bit more complex and muddy and 97% of the time there’s no clear cause. There are many factors that are known to contribute to a child’s delays though. One of the factors I see a lot in the population I work with is low socioeconomic status. If you have parents who are working multiple jobs super stressed out they don’t have as much time to read and talk to their kids. They also likely have a lower education themselves and probably use more simplistic language that doesn’t provide as rich of a language model. Kids who practice talking less that their peers don’t learn how to speak as quickly as their peers do. That’s not to say every poor kid is going to be delayed and rich white kids won’t be, it’s just an increased risk factor. Other times the area of the brain that develops speech and language just develops more slowly than others. There are also some other types of disorders in these areas that aren’t as common such as apraxia, which is a motor planning disorder that is easiest to think of as dyslexia of speaking. Your brain knows exactly what it wants to say, but as soon as your mouth tries to say it all the sounds end up jumbled up and in the wrong order. That’s another disorder that has some sort of disconnect between the area of the brain that creates the message and the area of the brain that controls the movements of the mouth.

There are many disorders that effect a child’s ability to communicate but for those, the delay in communication is secondary to another type of disorder for example a child with a hearing impairment has a hard time hearing others speak which makes it harder for them to imitate and learn correct speech patterns.

Speech impediments tend to be an outcome from varying influences that can be either physical, psychological or varying combination of both. It usually can be overcome entirely but in some cases only mitigated or damped.

As other posters have said, there are many reasons. Most developmental speech sound disorders are not caused by any physical problem (e.g. cleft palate, hearing loss). It’s kind of like asking why do some children have learning disabilities? It is just a combination of their genetic make-up and possibly external factors during their upbringing. We know that many times children with speech sound disorders also have deficits in other skills, such as phonemic awareness (i.e. the ability to break down words into their constituent parts, like c-a-t and also blending sounds together to form a whole word). Phonemic awareness is very important for early reading/writing so it is not uncommon for children with speech sound disorders to have reading difficulties. Sometimes these disorders can just be considered a developmental delay and the child is progressing along the normal trajectory, just at a slower rate than most children. Other times they may have errors or patterns of errors that are atypical which are more of a red flag that recovery may take longer. Also, if a child has strong language skills (i.e. age-appropriate vocabulary/syntax/comprehension), they are more likely to recover faster from delayed speech articulation skills (i.e. pronouncing certain sounds incorrectly). Hope that helps!

I have a lisp and it’s the result of a birth defect in my ears. Basically my ear canal was malformed and so when I was born they weren’t open holes making all sounds extremely muffled and garbled to me. I was a very sick baby so it took a while until I was healthy enough to have corrective surgery done but by that time I had passed the most important stage of learning how to speak which is- hearing how to speak! My hearing isn’t perfect and I need subtitles to watch anything, I have hearing aids to help too. My lisp comes from the fact that I’ve never heard how to speak correctly and I can’t properly hear myself to know how to fix it. It’s all a guessing game!