Overview on Communication Disorders

By: Niveen Salah & Eman Mahmoud


  • Introduction: What is the communication disorder?
  • Symptoms of communication disorder
  • Causes of communication disorder
  • Examples of communication disorder
  • The impact of communication disorder on student learning.
  • The difference between Communication disorder and learning disabilities
  • Treatment steps and educator’s role.
  • Conclusion and recommendations.

In general, communication is a complex process where we are able to express ourselves; requests, needs and respond to other people who are communicating with us. It is a two-way communication process of sending and receiving messages to share and exchange ideas and information.

A communication disorder can be defined as a speech and language disorder which refers to problems in communication and in related areas such as oral motor function. The delays and disorders can range from simple sound substitution to the inability to understand or use their native language

Therefore, Communication Disorders is a field under the umbrella of Social and psychological development.

What Are Communication Disorders? There are two types of communication disorders:   

1-Type one that affects speech: Issues that producing speech sounds (articulation), controlling sounds that are produced (voice), and controlling the rate and rhythm of speech (fluency) are generally considered speech disorders.

2-Type two that affects language: Issues with using proper forms of language (phonology, morphology, and syntax), using the content of language (semantics), and using the functions of language (pragmatics) are generally considered language disorders.

Communication Disorders are problems of childhood that affect learning, language, and/or speech. Expressive Language Disorder, Phonological Disorder, Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder, and Stuttering are all types of Communication Disorders.

Certain characteristics are common to all Communication Disorders. First, the diagnostic criteria for each require that the disorder must not be caused by mental retardation or a neurological disorder (such as epilepsy, for example). In all Communication Disorders, a child’s communication ability resembles that of a much younger child, which creates problems at school, at home and with peers (particularly in school). These disorders may run in families (e.g., there may be a genetic component to some communication disorders). They are more frequently diagnosed in boys than in girls and are more common among younger children than older children. Although the characteristics described above are common among all Communication disorders, there are also a wide range of sub-types and varying levels of severity among these disorders.


Additionally, a communication disorder is considered as an impairment in the ability to receive, send, process, and comprehend concepts or verbal, nonverbal and graphic symbol systems. It is also, may be evident in the processes of hearing, language, and/or speech. This type of disorder may range in severity from mild to profound. It may be developmental or acquired. Individuals may demonstrate one or any combination of communication disorders. A communication disorder may result in a primary disability or it may be secondary to other disabilities (http://www.Google.com/communication disorder).

speech-and-language-disorders-2-638                          Image Source: http://image.slidesharecdn.com/pptforspeechandlanguage-140821022007-phpapp01/95/speech- and-language-disorders-2-638.jpg?cb=1408587690

Symptoms of Communication Disorders:

There are many symptoms of communication disorders:

  • Communication problems
  • Speaking problems
  • Deafness
  • Mutism
  • Blindness
  • The inability to express emotions and thoughts
  • The inability to handle a conversation
  • Failure in social interaction
  • Inability to comprehend what others say

Children: Signs of a Language Disorder:

  • Inability to smile or interact with others (birth and older)
  • No mumbling (4-7 months)
  • Makes few sounds or gestures, for example, pointing (7-12 months)
  • Does not understand what others say (7 months-2 years)
  • Says only a few words (12-18 months)
  • Words are not easily understood (18 months-2 years)
  • Failure to connect words together to form a sentences (1.5-3 years)
  • Difficulties in playing and talking with other children (2-3 years)
  • Difficulties with reading and writing skills (2.5-3 years)
asha_identify-the-signs_csd-slideshow          Image Source:http://identifythesigns.org/wp-  content/uploads/2013/08/ASHA_Identify-the-Signs_CSD-Slideshow.jpg

Adults: Signs of Speech and Language Disorder:

  • Struggles to say sounds or words (stuttering)
  • Repetition of words (stuttering)
  • Speaks in short, fragmented phrases (expressive aphasia)
  • Says words in the wrong order (expressive aphasia)
  • Struggles with using words and understanding others (global aphasia)
  • Difficulty imitating speech sounds (apraxia)
  • Inconsistent errors (apraxia)
  • Slow rate of speech (apraxia)
  • Slurred speech (dysarthria)
  • Slow or rapid rate of speech (dysarthria)(identifythesigns.com).

Examples of Communication Disorders:

As mentioned above, the communication disorder is related to speech and language disorders that disrupt the communication process in sending and/or receiving messages from/to others.   Oral motor functions are not working properly, accordingly, there will be a delay.  Also, disorders range from simple sound substitution to the delay to understand or use language.

  • Autism: Is the developmental defect that affects understanding of emotional communication. BUT this is NOT classified as a Communication Disorder. It is a sub item under the DSM-IV-R as a Pervasive Development Disorder.
  • Other communication disorders include Expressive Language Disorder, Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder, Phonological Disorder, Stuttering, and Communication Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.
  • Aphasia: It is the loss of the ability to produce or comprehend language
  • Learning disability: Both speaking and listening components of the definition
  • Dysnomia: Cab be considered as a deficit involving word retrieval
  • Asperger syndrome: It is the areas of social and pragmatic language
  • Semantic pragmatic disorder: Is the Challenges with the semantic and pragmatic aspects of language
  • Blindness: Is the defect of the eye or visual system
  • Deafness: Is also the defect of the ear or auditory system
  • Dyslexia: A defect of the systems used in reading
  • Dyscalculia: Can be the defect of the systems used in communicating numbers
  • Expressive language disorder: This defect affects speaking and understanding where there is no delay in nonverbal intelligence.
  • Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder: this defect affects speaking, understanding, reading and writing where there is no delay in non-verbal intelligence.
  • Speech disorders such as:
  • Cluttering, a speech organization disorder
  • Stuttering
  • Oesophageal voice
  • Speech sound disorder
  • Specific language impairment
  • Dysarthria

The Impact of Communication Disorder on Student Learning:

Learning disabilities can be categorized based on the four stages of information processing used in learning:

Input: Information associated with the senses, such as vision and hearing. Difficulties with vision can lead to problems in recognizing the shape, position, or size of things, while difficulties in hearing can make it difficult to identify sounds or being attentive to them, such as the sound of the voice of the teacher and other children in the class.

very-very-angry-kid-great-expression-of-emotion Image Source:http://www.youngisthan.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/very-very-angry-kid-great-expression-of-emotion.jpg

Integration: This is the stage of interpreting the information and relate it to previous learning. Students with problems in this area suffer the inability to tell a story in a right order, they are unable to use the information they know in a right sequence in order to be fully understood.

Storage: Problems with memory can occur mainly with short-term memory, which can make it difficult to learn anything new without repeating it more times.

Output: Data comes out of the brain through language output, or some muscle activities, such as gesturing, writing, or drawing. Problems in this area can create problems with speaking including responding to an immediate question, arranging thoughts, and combining it into words to be able to speak. Examples of technical disorders include minor speech delays such as lisps, severe articulation disorders resulting in unintelligible speech, and aphasia, a disorder in which a person cannot express his or her thoughts (Glozman, 1987 as cited in Back, 2010).

Difficulties with motor abilities can cause problems with fine motor skills. Individuals who are suffering from motor difficulties may appear to be clumsy, more susceptible to falling, or bumping into things, facing some troubles in running, climbing, or learning  new sport. They also may have some problems related to handwriting, wearing cloths, or even tying their shoes.

Reading disorder (Dyslexia): A reading disorder is one of the consequences of communication disorders, which can affect any part of the reading process, including difficulty in word recognition, word decoding, reading rate, prosody, reading comprehension, phonemic awareness, the ability to convert words into sounds.

Disorder of written expression (Dysgraphia): The writing skills below the chronological age of education, which can lead to weak academic outcomes and achievement.

Individuals with a disorder of written expression face troubles which are manifested in grammatical mistakes, punctuation errors, poor paper organization, spelling mistakes.

Math disorder (Dyscalculia): Math disability involves difficulties in comprehending math facts and concepts such as quantity, place value, and time, difficulty in ordering numbers, and understanding how math problems are solved (http://www.wikipedia.com).

img_7691                                                    Image Source: http://sertomakids.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/IMG_7691.png

Causes of Communication Disorder:

Communication disorder may be a distinct diagnosis or may be associated with other conditions, some of which have a known etiology and some of which are idiopathic. The causes of social communication disorders are often defined in terms of these specific conditions. Links to disorder- and condition-specific Practice Portal pages will be included as those pages are developed.

The causes of communication disorders are vague in some cases and not clear not understandable.  However, it is understandable of how to help students to maximize their skill of speech and language development.

Causes of communication disorders can be:

Hearing impairment: Full or partial hearing impairment may cause difficulty in speech and language development. An assessment of hearing is one of the first steps in the investigation of speech and language problems.

Physical disability: Cleft lip and palate, or malformations of the mouth or nose may cause communication disorders. More involved disabilities, such as severe cerebral palsy, may preclude any speech at all and for these non-verbal children augmentative communication methods must be used.

Developmental disability: some children (not all) with a developmental disability or Down’s Syndrome may be slower to learn to talk and may need extra assistance.

The learning disabilities cases may have communication disorders. Many learning-disabled students have difficulty with receptive or expressive language. Without appropriate intervention children with communication disorders are at high risk for educational failure.

Children with Pervasive Development Disorders (P.D.D.), or Autism spectrum disorders will also have communication disorders. Many children with PDD or Autism have difficulty with social skills and their behavior and conversation skills may be limited or inappropriate. Often there is an associated language disorder.

Children with significant behavior or emotional problems may also have a communication disorder. In some cases, the behavior problems are extreme and the focus on the safety and security of the child is the priority. However, evaluation by qualified professionals, including Speech-Language Pathologist, often reveal language disorders which have not been recognized or treated.


The Differences between Communication Disorder and Learning Disabilities:

Learning disabilities and communication disorders are closely related in a cause and effect relation. The reason behind the appearance of communication disorders in disabled students is mainly because the student cannot be involved in the cognitive processes that take place during input/output interaction.

A student with communication disorders suffers the inability to achieve neither input nor output. The learning gap begins when the student fail to achieve anything through speaking, writing, and hearing.

According to the DSM-IV-TR,  “There are four common types of communication disorders”:

  • Expressive- when the student fails to show any progress in language.
  • Mixed receptive/ Mixed Expressive- When the student fails to understand what is being said.
  • Phonological- when the student is below his or her expected developmental level at speaking; babbles, baby talks.
  • OHI- weakness of hearing as a result of a disease or genetics.
  • Stuttering- choppy words which ban the flow of speech.

On the other hand, learning disabilities include other types of difficulties in the learning process. It might be connected in some way to communication disorder; however, each condition is independently from the other. Examples include:

  • ADHD
  • Dislexia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Asperger
  • Auditory processing disorder
  • Dyscravia
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Pervasive developmental disorder (http://www.enotes.com)
photo-3                                          Image Source: http://www.speechandlearning.com/Site/themed_images/photo%203.JPG

Treatment Steps and Educator’s Role:

In order to overcome their difficulties, children with communication disorders needs help to be able to develop their communicative abilities as well an understanding of social-communication (Back, 2010).

In order to ensure a smooth learning process for students with communication disorder, some steps need to be taken on the following levels:

speechtherapy       Image Source:http://aimhomehealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/SpeechTherapy.jpg

School’s Role:

  • Students with communication disorders should be allowed to discuss privately both their problems and needs before starting their school year.
  • The school should hire a Consultant or a Speech Language expert for each child with a communicative disorder and work with him/her throughout the year to monitor the student’s’ behavior.
  • Prepares an updated report to monitor the student’s performance.
  • Keep in contact with the parents to evaluate the student on a regular basis.
  • Provide the school with the facilities needed by those students.

Individuals with disorders, whether in the technical or motivational category, require assistance in order to learn how to acquire or express communicative skills (Back, 2010).

2d29512a0f3eab7280688501de828ca5                      Image Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/2d/29/51/2d29512a0f3eab7280688501de828ca5.jpg

Teacher’s Role:

  • Keep easy contact with the student.
  • Encourage their participation in discussions and various classes’ activities.
  • Encourage classmates to accept and interact with the student with communicative problems.
  • To be patient.
  • To be a good listener.
  • Show them respect.
  • Encourage students with speech impairments to speak in class and respect them.
  • Allow more time for the student to complete activities.
  • Provide the student a short distance from the instructor to meet their needs.
  • Provide help, if needed.
  • Provide incentives when the student does something positive.
  • Parise when the student shows the ability to do something without any help.
  • Consider some alternatives for any activity which can be done in an easy way but with same results.
  • Give them adequate time to express themselves without any interruption.
  • Do not fill the gap for them while talking. Let them express themselves freely.
  • Speak to them naturally (www.sesd.info).
    20140319com-disorders-de14Image Source: http://www.bju.edu/academics/programs/communication-disorders/20140319com-disorders-de14.jpg


  • During tests and exams, extra time should be granted for the student with communication disorders.
  • Plan them suitable tests whether oral, written, and drawn.
  • Assistants or writers can be provided during tests, in case, they are needed.
  • Make sure that the test instructions are fully understood by the child and provide any additional assistance in case it is needed (www.sesd.info).
https://youtu.be/vCXdk_cliiQ?t=6s&end 173s

Conclusion and Recommendations.

Communication is an essential tool in our lives.  Communication disorders can have detrimental effects on the learning process, development, and achievement of the individual. Children with communication disorders are suffering in their attempts to comprehend and respond to social conventions and norms (Kaczmarek, 2002 as cited in Back, 2010).

Recognizing communication disorder in early childhood is a substantial issue to confer the child a chance to receive the needed support, assistance, or treatment in order to create a healthy child, who is able to achieve and accomplish. Avoid labeling a child with a disorder, enhance social interaction, and establish easy communication is considered an appropriate therapy for the child.

Increasing the parent’s awareness of the necessity of supporting their children with communication disorders can have positive effects in accelerating the development of those children in a positive way.

Effective strategies to aid individuals to beat such disorders or even to reduce their effects will be helpful to fulfil their goals and give them the feeling of being an integral part of their society.


Back, Heather M. (2010). The Effects of Communication Disorders on Social   Development. CMC Senior Theses. Paper 77.

Baily, Sharelle (2004), A teacher’s resource pack developed. Bells and whistles. Communication Disorders and the effects on my classroom.

Bressert, S. (2016). Disorder of written expression symptoms. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/disorders/disorder-of-written-expression-symptoms/

Communication Disorder Definition.  Retrieved October 22, 2016 from https://sites.google.com/site/communicationdisorder/

Communication Disorder Strategies. Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://www.sesd.info/inclusion%20site/disabilities%20teaching%20strategies/Communication%20Disorders/communication%20disorders%20strategies.htm

Learning disability. Retrieved October 23, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_disability

Ontario Association for Families of Children with Communication Disorders (n.d.). What are the Causes Of Communication Disorders? Retrieved October 19, 2016 from http://www.oafccd.com/factshee/fact39.html

Ossa, M.P. (2013). What is the difference between a communication disorder and a learning disability?. Retrieved October 23, 2016 from http://www.enotes.com/homework-help/what-difference-between-communication-disorder-443315

Signs of Speech and Language Disorders. Know the Signs of Speech and Language Disorders. Retrieved October 22, 2016 from http://identifythesigns.org/signs-of-speech-and-language-disorders/

Scheuermann, Brenda and Johns, Beverley (2002). Advocacy for students with emotional or behavioral disorders in the 21st century. Behavioral Disorders, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 57-69

The American Speech Language Hearing Association (2006). What are Communication Disorders. 01-Book10-4916.qxd. Retrieved October 19, 2016 from https://www.corwin.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/8982_CH_1_from_Algozzine10_Rev_Final_Pdf_3.pdf

Zundans, L. (2003). Life narrative of a senior school student with learning difficulties. Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, 8(3),22-25.



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