educationists and teachers in the classroom today is identifying and dealing with children who have a speech, language or communication impairment, which negatively impacts on learning.. Many children find it difficult to understand how conversation works or don't make use of language at all. There are different terms used to describe specific speech and language difficulties, including "phonological difficulties, articulation difficulties, verbal dyspraxia, dysarthria, semantic pragmatic disorder, Asperger Syndrome and selective mutism." (Speech Impairments)
These specific speech and language difficulties can impact severely on the development and natural psychological and social growth of the child. Furthermore, it can also lead to further and more complicated problems - as will be discussed in this paper. "Children with a variety of speech and language impediments are increasing at risk as their language abilities fall behind those of their peers." (Children and Mental Health)
Emphasis must also be placed on recognizing the speech or learning disorder or impediment. This is where the teacher plays such a vital role. Some impediments may manifest themselves as bad behavior or even aggression and unless the teacher identifies the problem, the difficulties may result in further developmental and psychological damage. Throughout the following discussion the focus will also be on practical activities and tasks that the teacher can implement to help those with impediments. However, some impediments are more severe than others and necessitate specialized care and therapy. Even when the teacher cannot directly intervene with therapy, he or she can play a vital role in the identification of problems.
An estimated 10-15% of children in the United States have a speech disorder "as well as six percent of children in grades one through twelve." (Fleming C. 1991) Research suggests that in many cases the cause of these difficulties is not due to any other disability or condition but "that there may be a genetic cause for specific speech and language difficulties" while on the other hand, it has been found that "... other children find it hard to use language because of another disability like deafness or cerebral palsy." (Speech Impairments)
The United States Office of Education has variously estimated that 3% to 4%, or roughly 2,500,000, of school-age children in the United States have speech disorders. For the rest of the population, an extremely conservative figure is 3%, or close to 5,000,000.
The danger of leaving these disorders untreated can be serious for the short as well as the long-term development of the child.
Left untreated, a speech disorder can become a big problem for a child. The taunts of classmates can leave lasting psychological scars. Children with speech problems often do poorly in school because they are afraid to speak up. The earlier a problem is detected, the better.
(Fleming C. 1991)
By definition a speech or language impediment is a communications disorder which is associated either with the impaired ability to produce sounds or normal voice or to speak fluently. (Laberge, D.) As a communications problem speech disorders are often linked to and associated with the various learning disorders and language learning issues. Learning impediments may impact on speech disorders and vice versa. There are many different speech disorders which are generally characterized " ... By an interruption in the flow or rhythm of speech such as stuttering, or by problems with the way sounds are formed, also called articulation or phonological disorders, or they may involve voice problems such as pitch, intensity, or quality. Often, there is a combination of several different problems." (ibid) Speech disorders can also be associated with hearing loss and hearing deficiencies. There is a wide classification process with regards to speech disorders and impediments. These include the following:
Disorders of speech are commonly classified as follows: (1) disorders of voice; (2) disorders of articulation; (3) stuttering (stammering); (4) aphasia (dysphasia); (5) retarded development of speech or language; and (6) speech disorders associated with hearing loss or deafness, cleft lip and cleft palate, cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular impairments, laryngectomy, facial or oral injury or deficiency, mental retardation, and emotional illness.
It has also been found that young people with speech or language impairments struggle to understand abstract concepts like time; have problems learning to read and find it difficult to switch conversation topics. They generally feel isolated and don't make friends easily.
Types of Speech and Learning impediments
1. Stammering and Stuttering
This is a common impediment that many teachers might find among their students. Stuttering is essentially a difficulty that a child has in uttering and "getting out" words. "These involuntary repetitions, prolongations or blocks stop the normal flow of speech. Stammering usually starts when children are between 3 to 5-years-old, although it can appear later. (Stammering)
Five percent of children stammer at some point and it is more common in boys than girls. The cause of this impediment can be varied and may reside in emotional and psychosocial issues or even be genetically inherited. Many people who stutter have difficulty in coordinating the muscles used in speech. One of the most important consequences is social embarrassment, especially in the classroom situation. "It's embarrassing and frustrating not being able to get the words out, and this can make people feel worried and tense about speaking. In turn, this can lead to a lack of self-confidence and shyness. (ibid)
The teacher can be important in identifying those who stutter as they are not always obvious and there may be'covert" stutterers who learn to hide their difficulty.
For some, stuttering means an intense and visible struggle to force individual syllables through their lips, a phenomenon that is physically exhausting for the speaker and mentally awkward for the listener. Others stutter mildly, occasionally getting stuck or tripping on sounds. Some manage to avoid outward symptoms by substituting words and feigning ignorance.
(Wester, Holly, 1996).
There are a number of classic signs of this impediment. These include:
... prolongation, where someone sits on the same sound, in any part of a word; repetition, where someone repeats part of a word; block, which is a total cessation of speech, where the face seems to go into a spasm and the person has an evident struggle to get the word out; and circumlocution, which is a phobic response to a word, where the stutterer tags a particular word because it must be avoided."
(Jacobs, Leonard. 2002.)
One exercise that the teacher can use in the classroom is to make others aware of the problem of stuttering and thereby to reduce the stigma that may be attached to it. The following exercise was used to good effect is this regard.
The ... exercise taught them a lesson about speech impediments. Each student put a marshmallow on his or her tongue and tried to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. "I couldn't talk real good," admitted Christopher Morton. After they realized they couldn't speak or understand each other, Kinsey suggested what to do in the future when they encounter others with speech difficulties. "You can ask them to repeat what they said," she told the class. "The key is to be understanding."
(Wester, Holly, 1996).
Training and helping a stutterer to overcome his or her impediment is a complex process which usually involves the input of a professional speech therapist. However, a class teacher can also help by providing articulation therapy, which is the practice of repeating specific sounds, words, phrases and sentences. There is also fluency training; this includes developing the coordination between speech and breathing and attempts to slow down the rate of speech which is intended to help the articulation process. (Speech-Language Pathology)
The teacher may help the child to practice repeating a single word over and then adding more words gradually. This will allow the student to develop confidence as the words as sentences become more complex. (ibid) Other techniques include "the motor-kinesthetic approach and biofeedback, which helps the child to know whether the sounds he or she is producing are faulty or correct. For children with severe communication disorders, speech pathologists can assist with alternate means of communication, such as manual signing and computer-synthesized speech." (ibid)
Dyslexia is an inherited condition which can be a severe learning impediment. It has a direct effect on reading and writing skills, but has absolutely nothing to do with the level of a child's intelligence. It is estimated that between four and five percent of the population are dyslectic. (Dyslexia)
A dyslexic has "tiny differences in specific language areas of the brain which can cause varying degrees of difficulty in learning when using words and symbols." (ibid) About sixty percent of those suffering from dyslexia find it hard to identify and arrange sounds within words; which inevitably leads to problems with reading, wring and spelling. (ibid)
One way in which the educator can help the dyslexic child is through the method of a multi-sensory teaching method. This method involves helping the child to learn though more than one of his or her senses. .