Communication Disorders

The basics of CDs in education systems

What is a communication disorder?

A communication disorder is a disorder which refers to problems regarding communication. These types of disorders can be problems with many different aspects of communication, including:
  • Articulation (difficulty producing sounds)
  • Fluency (problems with rhythm and flow of speech)
  • Voice (problems with pitch)
  • Language (difficulty expressing oneself)

We explored a few different communication disorders more in depth:
  • Specific Language Impairment
  • Autism
  • Stutters
  • Lisps

Quick Facts:

  • Causes of communication disorders:

    • developmental or acquired

    • brain development

    • exposure to toxins during pregnancy

  • Who is affected?

    • More boys than girls are diagnosed with communication disorders

    • Communication disorders are often accompanied by other psychiatric disorders.

  • Symptoms:

    • Young children may not speak or have a very limited vocabulary. Cannot understand simple directions or remember names.

    • School aged children have problems understanding and formulating words.

    • Teens struggle with expressing and understanding abstract ideas.

  • How are CDs diagnosed?

    • Referred for speech/language evaluations

    • Child psychiatrist is consulted especially when accompanied by emotional/behavioral issues

  • Treatment:

    • Varies depending on recommendations by physician, SPED teacher, speech/ language and mental health professionals.

Examples of Disorders

Specific Language Impairment

Specific language impairment (SLI) is a language disorder that delays the mastery of language skills in children who don't have problems with hearing. SLI is one of the most common childhood learning disabilities. Children with SLI sometimes don't begin speaking until they are 2 or 3 years old, and they usually have a hard time understanding the usage of verbs. Diagnosis generally occurs around preschool age and includes a variety of speech professionals. If the disorder isn't treated in a timely manner, SLI can really hinder a student's academic performance. Students with SLI should work with a speech pathologist at a young age to work to improve these issues. Many times, they will be referred to special programs which will use activities, such as role play, to improve the disorder.
Click here to learn more about SLI.


Autism Spectrum Disorder and Communication
  • Development of communication skills varies - each person is different

  • Speaking ability ranges from mute to extensive vocabulary

  • Pronunciation is typically not an issue; using language effectively is where issues occur

  • Conversation

    • The concept of “give and take” that people without autism use in conversation is often times hard to grasp for people with autism.

    • People with autism speak more in monologues, not allowing for comments between thoughts.

    • In some cases, people with autism will avoid all social interaction, or may feel indifferent towards such interactions.

  • Meaning of language

    • People with autism often speak and understand language in very literal terms.

    • People without autism frequently speak in idioms, use sarcasm, or include hidden or parallel meanings in their speech. This sort of language can be difficult for people with autism to grasp.

  • Non-verbal communication

    • Many people with autism employ very subtle inflections, tones, facial expressions, and gestures in communicating with others.

    • People without autism use a different system of body language than people with autism.

    • Some of this non-verbal communication used by people with autism includes speaking in high-pitches, speaking monotone, and sing-speaking.

  • Expression through language

    • People with autism may struggle with communicating their thoughts and needs to others, especially people without autism.

    • Frustration from this inability to communicate may lead to outbursts in order to get the point across from people with autism.

    • Said communication barriers, if severe, can lead to depression or social anxiety.

  • Interventions for ASD Communication Disorders

    • Very individualized: Could focus more on verbal or non-verbal communication development.

    • Based around communication and behavior

    • Parents/caregivers are heavily involved in interventions.

    • Applied Behavior Analysis, in-home therapy, music therapy, and sensory-integration therapy are several methods of developing communication skills.

    • Medication has been researched and tested, but there is no conclusive evidence to support any improvement on communication via medication.


A lisp is a speech impediment whose sufferers are unable to pronounce specific sounds”. It is normal for young children to have a lisp and parents should allow the lisp to persist until the child’s fourth or fifth birthday. However, after the age of five, a lisp is no longer considered normal and should be investigated by a speech professional. There are four main types of lisps, the most common being interdental lisps where speakers put their tongue between their teeth when trying to make an “s” or “z” sound. Dentalised lisps occur when the individual puts their tongue against their front teeth and push air outward creating a muffled sound. Lateral lisps occur when individuals put their tongue on the roof of their mouth when speaking and create a “slushy” sound. The fourth and final lisp is a palatal lisp which occurs when the midsection of the individuals tongue hits the soft palate in their mouth and creates a “hy” sound. Lisps are usually treated with short-term speech therapy. Therapy is usually successful in correcting the lisp. During therapy, the individual is taught the isolated sound with which he or she is struggling. After the individual has mastered that sound, they will then combine it into syllables, words, and phrases. After these skills are mastered, the individual will work on speaking naturally and monitoring his or her own speech and making corrections when necessary.

Click here for more info on lisps.


Stuttering is a speech disorder where involuntary recurrence and continuation of sounds, syllables, words, or phrases disrupts the flow of speech. It also encompasses involuntary silent pauses where the person who stutters is unable to produce any sounds. Although there are many speech therapy treatments and techniques to help improve speech, there is no cure for stuttering.
The Case Of The Donut Thief

Teaching Tips:

Having a communication disorder is a hard thing for a student to deal with. It is imperative that teachers know how to treat students with disorders with patience and sensitivity. Here are some "Teacher Tips" on how to deal with communication disorders in the classroom.
  1. Be informed! Hopefully the information we've provided on this e-poster has been beneficial to you. If you want to learn more, keep researching!
  2. If a student is on an IEP, make sure you know their goals and how to appropriately accommodate for them.
  3. Accommodate for students with communication disorders! Small adjustments can make huge improvements.
  4. Work together! While teachers have a lot of knowledge, we are not specialists in everything. Work with speech pathologists and special education teachers to learn how to effectively adapt for your students with communication disorders.
  5. Collaborate with parents. Parents obviously know a lot about their student, and they can be great resources for helping the student improve.
  6. Be patient. Remember, communication disorders are not only a challenge for the teacher, but especially for the student. Let the student communicate on their own without trying to overcompensate for them.

Read a few more tips here.

Pitch Perfect - Clip: "Chloe tells The Bellas that she has nodes"

Communication & Other Aspects of Life

Cognitive Functioning

Cognitive function and communication disorders go hand-in-hand, because a lot of times, they are caused by damage to regions of the brain. Damage to the brain can impair a student's ability to speak, write, or communicate. Disorders caused by damage to the brain can range from something as simple as stuttering to aphasia (a loss of speech due to stroke or severe brain damage).

Socioemotional Functioning

The article "Socioemotional Aspects of Language and Social-Communication Disorders in Young Children and Their Families" by Barry Prizant and Elaine Meyer offers a lot of insight about socioemotional functioning and communication. It states, "A language or communication disorder may have a significant impact on the development of self-regulatory capacities." The article states that students with communication disorders tend to have extreme difficulties with socioemotional functioning.

Daily Life

Diagnosis of a communication disorder generally involves an interference with the academics and social life of a student, but it also involves a student's day-to-day life. Difficulty communicating with others obviously impacts daily life and social life.

The King's Real Speech (George VI Stutter) [Full Resolution]