Types of Speech and Language Disorders

On the evening of September 3, 1939 — the day the United Kingdom declared war on Germany — King George VI delivered a speech to the people of his country. He began, “In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself.” The speech not only comforted and galvanized a nation but also prompted other political leaders to support the Allied Forces, leading to Germany’s eventual defeat in World War II.

Just as impressive as the inspiring delivery of his message was the king’s journey to the podium. George VI had suffered from a debilitating stutter that impeded his ability to speak, particularly in public. The 2010 film The King’s Speech documented his journey with speech therapist Lionel Logue as they worked through innovative methods to overcome the speech disorder.

A speech therapist may work with many types of speech and language disorders.

The film details just one aspect of the work that speech and language disorder specialists do, but speaks volumes about the impact they can have on their clients’ lives. Continue reading to explore the different types of speech and language disorders these specialists treat in children and adults, as well as how to step into this role and create meaningful change in all kinds of patients’ lives.

Exploring Types of Speech and Language Disorders

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), roughly 40 million Americans have some type of communication disorder, which is any disorder that impacts an individual’s ability to comprehend and create language. Additionally, ASHA estimates that roughly 5% of children have noticeable speech disorders by first grade.

Speech and language disorders affect learning and can create feelings of social isolation. For this reason, it is important to identify them and coordinate intervention as early as possible. Below are common types of speech and language disorders in children and adults.


Speech and language creation is an essential part of the human experience, but many children have been diagnosed with disorders that interrupt this seemingly natural process. At their most severe, speech and language disorders not treated in children can impair the ability to communicate and hinder academic achievement. Some of the most common types of speech and language disorders in children include the following:

  • Childhood apraxia of speech: Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), also called verbal dyspraxia or developmental apraxia, is often caused by a genetic disorder, stroke, or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Children with CAS often put stress on the wrong syllables, distort or change speech sounds, change the way they say words, and have difficulty pronouncing long words. During treatment, speech-language therapists work with children on fine motor skills, intonation, and the movements associated with the creation of sounds.
  • Stuttering: Roughly 3 million Americans have a stuttering disorder, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders. Stuttering is the repetition of sounds or syllables, as well as the prolonging of certain words and other verbal disruptions. Treatment for stuttering differs based on age and other factors, though it typically includes breathing techniques, speaking slowly, and treatments related to anxiety.
  • Cleft lip: Cleft lips and palates are the most common birth defects in the United States, though the cause remains unknown. A cleft lip is a split in the upper lip, which, if not treated promptly, can create difficulties in speech formation. Generally, a cleft lip is remedied by surgical procedure to close the gap, which is often done before the child turns 1 year old.


Many adults experience various types of speech and language disorders that developed when they were children. Other adults develop them as a result of injury or stroke. Left untreated, these disorders can cause communication difficulties, create feelings of isolation, and impact professional success.

  • Brain injuries: Brain injuries that impact speech and language include TBI and right hemisphere brain injury. Right hemisphere brain injuries affect processes related to speech and language, such as attention, memory, and problem-solving. TBIs involve blows to the head that result in damage to the brain. These can weaken speech muscles or cause cognitive issues that make understanding or expressing thoughts difficult. Both injuries require attention from a medical doctor as well as a speech-language professional to strengthen speech muscles and improve memory, attention, and conversation skills.
  • Oral and esophageal cancers: It is possible to develop cancer of the lips, jaw, tongue, gums, cheeks, throat, or esophagus. These can create problems with speech, as well as chewing and swallowing. The risk of developing any of these cancers increases with excessive drinking of alcohol and use of tobacco products. Typically, individuals who develop these cancers work with medical professionals to treat the disease. Speech-language professionals then help patients as needed to redevelop their muscles, improve mouth movement, and facilitate recovery for chewing and swallowing.
  • Dementia: Dementia can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, or other diseases. People with advanced dementia may not be able to feed themselves or speak clearly. Speech-language therapists can help those with dementia maintain independence for as long as possible by assisting with memory and motor skills and using written words to help them complete tasks.
  • Voice disorders: Voice disorders are very common among adults. They may last a few days or much longer. Voice disorders include vocal fold nodules and polyps, vocal fold paralysis, paradoxical vocal fold movement, and spasmodic dysphonia. Most of these disorders require a combination of medical treatment, surgery, and speech-language therapy to help patients reclaim full expressive capacity.

Who Treats Speech and Language Disorders?

Depending on the type of speech and language disorder, any of several professionals versed in the field might assist in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. A few of the possible careers in this field are below.


Audiologists are hearing specialists who prevent, diagnose, and treat ear, hearing, and balance disorders in young children, adolescents, and adults. These specialists work in all sorts of environments, including private practices, clinics, hospitals, and personal care stores. Typically, to attain this job title, professionals must earn a doctoral degree and licensure in their state. For their advanced skills, audiologists receive a median annual salary of $75,920, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The field for audiologists is growing, with an anticipated 16% increase in jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), commonly referred to as speech-language therapists, prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, communication, and swallowing disorders in people of all ages. SLPs work in healthcare facilities of all kinds and also commonly work in schools. They have a minimum of a master’s degree in the field, though many also hold a doctoral degree. Most states require that they have a license. As of May 2018, SLPs earn an annual median salary of $77,510, according to the BLS, which projects the field to grow by 27% between 2018 and 2028, significantly above the national average of 5%.

Medical Doctors

Many of the disorders described above require the expertise of a medical doctor (MD). Physicians work in hospitals, private practices, clinics, and community health centers, where they offer care to adults and children of all ages. Medical doctors can treat many types of speech and language disorders, though they may refer patients to a specialist (such as an audiologist or speech-language pathologist) in some cases. According to the BLS, physicians and surgeons earn a median annual salary of $208,000 annually, though this pay can vary based on experience and location. The BLS predicts the demand for such professionals will increase by 7% between 2018 and 2028.

Learn More with Maryville University

Communication is an essential part of being human. Professionals in the field of speech and language help people achieve their full potential when it comes to oral communication. Beginning a career in this field requires establishing a foundational understanding of speech and hearing science, audiology, counseling skills, and more. Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders equips students with the skills they need to continue in the field and make a difference in others’ lives. Find out more about how this degree can serve your goals in treating speech and language disorders.

Recommended Reading

Audiologist Assistant Skills

Professional Fluency: How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist


American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Speech and Language Disorders

American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Speech-Language Pathologists

American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Quick Facts

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Language and Speech Disorders in Children

National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Speech and Language Disorders in Children” 

National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders, Stuttering

Speech-Language and Audiology Canada, Why Is Communication Health Important? 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Audiologists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Physicians and Surgeons

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Speech-Language Pathologists

WebMD, Common Speech and Language Disorders

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