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speech impairment

Alternative Names

Impairment means there is a change in the way a certain body part works that is different from usual. Speech impairment means it is difficult to use the body parts and muscles that make the motions or sounds needed for speech.

Language impairment is different from speech impairment. It is caused by damage to the brain that makes it difficult or even impossible to use or understand words.

What is the information for this topic?
How does this impairment occur?

Some babies are born with physical problems, such as cleft lip and cleft palate, that make it difficult or impossible to learn to speak. Cleft lip is an incomplete joining of the upper lip. Cleft palate is an abnormal passageway through the roof of the mouth into the airway of the nose. Because these problems are present at birth, they are called congenital.

Other causes of speech impairment include: Who might have this impairment?

Babies might be born with physical problems, deafness, or other conditions that prevent speech. Adults might have disease, tumour, or injury to the brain, muscles, nerves, or voice box.

Are there ways to lessen a speech impairment?

Some congenital problems, such as cleft palate or lip, can be repaired with surgery. With other problems, a speech pathologist or speech therapist can help during rehabilitation supervised by a doctor. People who have lost their speech because of a stroke can often regain some or all of their speaking ability by working with a speech therapist.

Some children and adults can learn Australian Sign Language. Australian sign language is mostly used by people who are deaf or severely hearing impaired, but many people can benefit from learning it. People who have lost the ability to speak because of surgery can sometimes use an electronic device that produces sounds imitating the human voice. Known as augmentative communication, these devices include typewriters, computers, or special boards with pictures or words.

How do people with this impairment function?

People who are born with a speech impairment and learn Australian sign language at an early age can function well. They may stay within a circle of friends and family who are at ease with them.

People who lose the ability to speak due to illness or injury may feel frustrated and impatient when trying to communicate. Some people can regain their speech, or learn to speak well enough to get their meaning across.

It's important to treat a person with a speech impairment normally. People should take their time and be patient when trying to communicate with such a person. Difficulty with speech doesn't have anything to do with intelligence. If understanding is difficult, it may be useful to ask the person to write a word or phrase.

The Australian Sign Language Interpreters' Association (ASLIA) can be found in each state. It is an organisation of accredited sign language interpreters and those wishing to become accredited sign language interpreters.
  • OLD - (07) 3356 8255
  • SA - (08) 8223 3335
  • TAS - (03) 6249 5144
  • VIC - (03) 9657 8111
  • WA - (08) 9443 2677
  • ACT - (02) 6287 4393
  • NSW - (02) 9893 8555
Author: Joy Householder, RN, CCM
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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