What Are Speech Disorders?
A school going boy in a small part of England had issues with his speech such that talking itself became a difficult task. Unable to face the bully of his fellow classmates and the resultant frustration and stress, this boy eventually developed a shy personality. He was interested in theatre and acting but was often mocked due to his speech issues. He then went on to create and develop a character Mr. Bean with an extraordinary storyline which tugs at the peoples’ heart and life even today. He is none other than Rowan Atkinson who overcame or rather gained strength from his vulnerability of stammering. He created a niche for himself by inspiring himself from what other people and the world perceived as a disability and made fun of.
Speech and language are an intricate part of our life. In Indian culture, there is a lot of significance placed on speech and language. Be it in terms of how one speaks to one’s elders, the obsession over speaking English fluently and the resultant prejudices etc, there is always huge emphasis placed on speech and language from time to time. In recent times, we also notice the huge debate on the nature of language to be spoken. There is sudden consciousness on how certain groups are to be addressed albeit in a positive way. In short the emphasis on these aspects are visible in our society and rightly so. Speech refers to the articulated sounds through which thoughts, feelings and opinions are openly expressed. Language on the other hand refers to the method of communication used by humans to interact and stay in touch with each other. Speech and language in this sense share an interdependent relationship. Both are equally important and essential part of what constitutes effective communication. A child starts communicating the moment it arrives in this world. Starting from crying, making various sorts of sounds such as gurgling, babbling etc, then broken words to speaking fluently in proper sentences, the child progresses in age as well as intelligence to capture this ability. But there are instances unfortunate enough wherein due to various factors, children might develop certain speech related issues or disorders in the worst case. These issues are often so subtle that they often go unnoticed or start to get noticed later in life. It is thus very important to take notice of the ways and factors in which speech disorders can occur. Developmental concepts of speech and language hold a special place in psychopathology. In such cases as autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia among others, the acquisition of speech and language is especially looked at along with distortions in thought patterns, especially in the case of schizophrenia. Nevertheless, when we speak of speech disorders in particular, we are looking at the childhood phase of development wherein this aspect is looked into as placed between a host of personal and academic progression. When such aspects are ignored, they inevitably lead to a number of problems in other areas of life such as reading, writing, social skills, communication, interpersonal relationships etc.
Speech disorders are mainly considered to be development disorders. These can occur either due to certain circumstances in childhood or otherwise too as in the case of some injury. Roughly these disorders fall into three categories: Articulation disorder, Expressive language disorder and Receptive language disorder. In simple terms, these categories pertain to the difficulties faced in acquisition of sounds & language, articulation of speech, expression of one’s thoughts, opinions through language and inability to understand what people are trying to communicate such that the language grasping ability is below one’s present age. There are also cases wherein certain letters in words might be replaced with others such as the letter 's' in the word 'this' being replaced by the letter 't' such as 'thit. Such speech related issues can occur in adulthood as well but most often than not the genesis is found in childhood situations. It is often observed during internships when the child is brought to the psychologist; with visible difficulties in his/her academic life. These might inevitably have a root cause in one’s inability to engage properly either through speech or language. The development of speech and language depends on a couple of factors. Firstly comes the family environment: Depending on the amount of love, care and attention the primary caregivers are directing towards the child, the acquisition of words begin. We must have observed new mothers often talking to their infants. They either make sounds, speak gibberish in a manner of imitation or indulge in what others perceive as self-talk. Such mannerisms actually help in early and easy acquisition of speech for the infant. No surprise that we come across increasingly early speaking infants these days!! Another aspect which is increasingly being observed is to how infants understand only that language in which it is being talked to. In such circumstances, the dependence on nanny for baby care these days can be thrown light on. Secondly: The first form of speech for any infant is crying. There is the use of the vocal faculties and crying is a medium of conveying some message. If an infant is not allowed a free expression of crying and slowly not encouraged to speak in the broken words that infants most often interact in; it can either lead to delayed acquisition of speech or in the event of speech acquisition, cause constant disruptions at often untoward times. Allowing free expression of speech for children is very important not just for the act of speaking but also for the healthy development of other factors such as intelligence. Thirdly, in the event of a shocking event for the child such that intense fear is internalized, speech issues might occur such as stammer, slur etc. These events might include a strong disciplinary household or school environment, an intimidating stranger or even family members etc. Lack of encouragement to speak might allow a total absence of speech or disrupted speech leading to probable abuse.
While it is important to take note of and understand speech disorders in proper clinical terms; the psycho-social aspects of the same is somewhere missing as a result of which attention might be misleading. Such issues related to speech might lead to altering changes in a child’s personality such as that of Mr. Atkinson. Stage fright, fear of speaking and resultant embarrassment, significant problems with regards to reading, writing or understanding the same are some common scenarios. In such circumstances, what becomes essential is the patience and understanding of those close to the person concerned. As in every disorder; more than the disorder, it is the attitudes towards the same which is more severe and worthy of attention and it is similar with speech issues too. There are in place speech therapies which when through early intervention is sought for, can prove really beneficial for both the child and his/her caregivers.