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Speech and Language Disorders Factsheet (for Schools)

What Teachers Should Know

Speech refers to the way sounds and words are formed, and language refers to the use of words to receive and express information.

Kids with speech disorders may have trouble with:

  • articulation, the production of speech sounds
  • fluency, the rhythm and flow of speech
  • voice, the quality of pitch, resonance, or loudness

Students with language disorders may have trouble understanding or being understood through all forms of communication — verbal, nonverbal, and written. This can cause difficulty understanding the meaning of words and putting words together to form an idea.

Students with speech and language problems may have trouble with reading, writing, or speaking aloud in class. Treatment is aimed at improving skills through speech-language therapy. The sooner therapy begins, the better.

What Teachers Can Do

Students with speech and language impairments may benefit from individualized education programs (IEPs) or 504 education plans. If your student is being treated for a speech or language problem, part of the treatment may include seeing a speech-language pathologist during the school day. Therapy may be one or more times a week, depending on the severity of the condition.

Students with speech and language problems can feel stressed and anxious, which can make it even harder to talk and express themselves. A student may speak slowly in class and should be given plenty of time to express thoughts. It’s not helpful to interrupt or complete a sentence for the student, and might embarrass them.

To support students in your classroom:

  • Move kids closer to you. Having kids sit closer to the front of the class makes it easier to help them with questions and assignments. Kids also may need to sit closer to you if they have a hearing problem.
  • Make sure kids understand and write down assignments correctly to help avoid confusion.
  • Give extra time to complete assignments or make-up work when needed.
  • Substitute written papers or projects for oral presentations, or allow a student to demonstrate learning one-on-one with you. Asking questions in a way that lets the student give a brief answer can also help.
  • Use technology to make learning easier. This may include having real-time captioning on any videos used in the classroom and using voice-recognition software on computers.
  • Be patient (and encourage classmates to be patient) when students speak in class.
  • Talk about and celebrate differences. Students with speech or language problems want to be accepted like everyone else. But sometimes they’re targeted by others who see them as “different.” Talk about and celebrate differences, and focus on the interests that kids share. Be mindful of bullying, and keep a zero-tolerance policy for that behavior.

By addressing special needs and offering support when needed, you can help students with a speech and language disorders learn as best as possible.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: 10-03-2021

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