What is a communication impairment?

The acquisition of speech and language is something that we normally do not give a second thought to unless we are faced with a diagnosis of a speech or language impairment of someone we know. These impairments are considered to be communication disorders that can affect a child’s ability to talk, understand, read and write. Communication disorders are divided into two subgroups: speech disorders and language disorders.
 A speech disorder or impairment includes articulation disorders, fluency disorders, and voice disorders. Articulation disorders are errors in the speech sounds that a child produces which are not within developmental norms. Fluency disorders ,also commonly known as stuttering and cluttering, are related to the rhythm and timing of speech. Voice disorders include problems with the quality of a person’s voice, relating to the larynx and improper use of the voice.
Language disorders or impairments are divided into the five basic components of language: phonological disorders, morphological disorders, semantic disorders, syntactical deficits, and pragmatic difficulties. Phonology refers to the organization of the phonological system, and a child with an impairment will often have errors in speech production and the perception of speech. Morphological disorders refer to the acquisition of inflections on parts of speech which can indicate a change in meaning. Semantic disorders include word meaning and are characterized by a decreased vocabulary development and difficulty with comprehension of word meanings. Syntax includes word order and grammar acquisition and pragmatics refers to understanding and utilizing language across a varied social environment.
Speech language delays and disorders can vary in severity and characteristics of the disorders. Often these children struggle in academics targeting reading, comprehension of language , difficulty with expressing language, and organizational activities within their classroom. With some children there is very little impact on their daily activities and with others the impact of their disorder can affect them across environments, including the classroom. It is important to identify these disorders and offer intervention if warranted.