Speech and Language Impairments

Resources for Teachers and Parents

Definition and Description

Speech or Language impairment, a communication disorder, such as:
  • stuttering,
  • impaired articulation,
  • a language impairment,
  • or a voice impairment,
that adversely affects a child's educational performance (U.S. DOE, 2006)



  • misarticulation
  • dysfluencies
  • poor voice quality
  • poor resonance
Students with speech disorders may be reluctant to speak in class, uncomfortable interacting with peers in a learning or social situation. Stuttering or poor speech production may impact a student's confidence and they may become frustrated or avoid social situations, showing withdrawn behavior.
Prevalence: These students make up the largest category of 3-5 year olds (46%) and the second-largest category (behind learning disabilities) for the school age population (19%). Prevalence estimates ranging from 2% to 25% of children ages 5 to 7 years.

Includes accurate prevalence rate related to population as a whole (Law, Boyle, Harris, Harkness, & Nye; 2000)


  • Expressive language disorder-difficulty conveying thoughts, feelings, or information
  • Receptive language disorder-difficulty understanding information that is received
  • Pragmatics-difficulty with social language competence or the use of language in a social context
Students with receptive language disorders may experience confusion and have challenges following directions, comprehending lectures and written materials, and complying with classroom and school rules. Students with expressive language may have difficulty demonstrating what they know because of challenges with word retrieval and formulating their knowledge into spoken sentences. Students with pragmatic language disorders may have difficulty interacting with peers, making friendships, or initiating or participating successfully in a reciprocal conversations.


One of the major challenges for students with language disorders is difficulty with comprehension there are three appropriate data-based classroom strategies that can support a student who is having difficulty understanding:
  • Create a Language-sensitive/rich Environment-Classrooms where teachers identify and prevent potential communication breakdowns, where language development is fostered, and where student's language needs are supported. One strategy that helps to create a language rich environment is to put materials in sight, but out of reach so that the student has to communicate to get access to the desired material.
  • Explicit Instruction-Directly teaching (as opposed to exposing or implicitly sharing) content or providing specific information about what is expected by the student
  • Content Enhancement Strategies-Use of these tools help students organize their learning and remember complex content. Graphic organizers (see image below) is one example of how information can be organized to help with comprehension and retaining learned content
  • Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR)-Improves vocabulary and reading comprehension skills by using reciprocal teaching strategies and cooperative learning. See link for more information.
Technology is an important accommodation for improving communication. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices provide different means for individuals with either speech and/or language impairments to interact with others. AAC may include low-tech options like pictures or a communication board (see pictures below) or high-tech options that are computerized voice output devices (e.g., like a Dynavox) or apps on an iPad (see picture below).

Data-based Instrcuctional Strategies and Accommodations-- links to additional information


Home-based strategies to help young children with early communication impairments

  1. Create a language-rich home environment: provide many opportunities for your young child to explore novel toys and objects. Engage your child by getting on the floor and following their lead/interests in play. Use language facilitation strategies (recasts, self-talk and parallel talk, and modeling) during play and daily routines to encourage language and provide a variety of models.
  2. Use daily routines to teach language: You and your child spend most of your day engaged in daily routines (e.g., feeding, dressing, bathing, etc.), think about how to make them predictable and model the same language each time. For additional information on making the most of daily routines, follow this link.
  3. Put toys or desired objects in sight, but out of reach: Often, parents know their children so well that they do not create opportunities in which they need to communicate. However, when learning to communicate, children need many opportunities to communicate either verbally or nonverbally. For example, if your child loves the rubber ducky at bath time, instead of having it floating in the water when he gets in the tub, why don't you put it up on the ledge so that he has to reach for it and then you can say, "Duck" and then hand him the rubber ducky after he has communicated for it.

Firstwords Project-Information for Parents

This website provides easy to understand handouts that give helpful tips for promoting early language, play, and literacy development in the home.

American Speech-Language and Hearing Association

This website provides a wealth of information about speech, language and hearing disorders and strategies for professionals. There is also an annual convention that provides continuing education.

Language Builder App

This app was developed by Stages Learning and was voted the 3rd best educational app of 2011. The app promotes the development of expressive and receptive language for young children with communication delays.


American Speech-Language and Hearing Association. (n.d.). Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/AAC/

Falk-Ross, F.C. (2002). Classroom-based language and literacy intervention: A programs and case studies approach. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Law, J., Boyle, J., Harris, A., Harkness, A., & Nye, C. (2000). Prevalence and natural history of primary speech and language delay. Findings from a systematic review of the literature. International Journal Language and Communication Disorders, 35, 165-188.

Manolson, A., Ward, B. & Dodington, N. (1995). You Make the Difference. Toronto: Hanen Centre.

Paul, R., & Roth, F.P. (2011). Characterizing and predicting outcomes of communication delays in infants and toddlers: Implications for clinical practice. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 42, 331-340.

Smith, D. D. & Tyler, N. C. (2014). Introduction to contemporary special education. Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. (ISBN-13:978-0-13-294461-8)

Let Me Finish: A Stuttering Documentary