Facebook Pixel Communication Disorders Clinic | Western Kentucky University

CEC - Communication Disorders Clinic - FAQs

A person experiences a communication disorder when his or her ability to receive, process, or send information is impaired. Speech and language disorders range from mild to severe and can affect people of all ages. People may have difficulty producing language (includes reading and writing), using voice properly, or speaking with a normal rhythm. Speech and language processes are summarized as follows:

  • Articulation - the process in which sounds, syllables, and words are formed with the tongue, jaw, teeth, lips, and palate using the airflow from the lungs.
  • Language - the code and rules used to communicate ideas and express wants and needs. Language includes vocabulary, current word order in sentences, meaningful word use in the context of the sentence and the social setting, following directions, and some gesture systems, such as sign language. Receptive language includes the understanding of the spoken and written words (listening and reading). Expressive language includes the production of spoken and written words (talking and writing).
  • Voice-the process by which the vocal cords vibrate as air flows through them from the lungs (phonation). The vibrations resonate through the pharynx and the oral and nasal cavities to give the voice its quality (resonation). Aspects of voice include loudness, quality (clear, hoarse, weak, breathy, strident), and resonance.

  • Fluency-the smooth rhythm and flow of speech. Fluency involves the rate, stress, loudness, and inflection of the pattern of speech. One type of fluency problem is stuttering.

When one or more of the speech and language processes are disrupted, a communication disorder may result. The cause of a speech and language disorder cannot always be determined. Brain injury or disease, hearing loss, neurological disorders, intellectual disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy, drug abuse, vocal abuse, or oral-facial malformations such as cleft palate may cause some disorders. Some delays in speech and language may be due to environmental factors.

It is estimated that 1 of every 10 Americans is affected by communication disorders, including speech, language and hearing. An estimated 2% of all newborns each year have a disabling condition, and many of these children will have speech or language delays and disorders that may have a major impact on their personal, academic or social life. Approximately 1 in 4 students in the special education programs in the public schools has been identified as having a speech or language problem.



The first years of life are critical to the child's learning of speech and language skills. A baby understands much about language before uttering his or her first word. Everything a child hears, sees, smells, tastes, and touches contributes to his or her expanding knowledge of the environment. This knowledge is the basis for development of communication, speech, and language skills. A child learns language by listening to others' language and speech and then practicing what he or she hears. Early identification, evaluation, and treatment for children under the age of 3 increase their chances for successful communication skills. Early identification is particularly important for those children who have a disability or who are at risk for having a delay in speech, language, or hearing. Children from neonatal intensive care units or with diagnosed medical conditions, such as genetic defects, cerebral palsy, chronic ear infections, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Down syndrome, are at a higher risk for delays. Children who do not have any high-risk factors but whose speech or language does not approximate that of other children the same age should be evaluated.


An evaluation by a speech-language pathologist includes careful observation and measurement of a child's speech and language abilities. The tasks may be formal or informal and may include standardized tests; reports from parents, physicians, or teachers; direct observation of the child's behavior; and analysis of a spontaneous speech sample. The evaluation process may require an ongoing effort over several sessions to obtain enough information to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Other professionals such as audiologists, otolaryngologists, neurologists, psychologists, nurses, pediatricians, and social workers may assist with the evaluation process because speech and language disorders can be part of an ongoing social or medical condition with overlapping treatments.




Some of the links on this page may require additional software to view.

 Last Modified 7/28/23