What are communication disorders?
Communication disorders consist of speech disorders and language disorders. Students with speech disorders
have trouble conveying messages verbally. These students may, for example, stutter, mispronounce sounds and sound combinations,
or speak too loudly or softly. Sometimes speech disorders are caused by cerebral palsy, cleft lip or palate, or low
hearing. Students with language disorders have difficulty producing, receiving, and comprehending information
and concepts. They may utilize incorrect grammar, omit certain sounds, mix up word order, and rely too heavily on words
with more generalized meanings (such as thing or one). Sometimes language disorders are the result
of the challenges posed by other disorders, such as mental retardation and autism. Individuals can have both speech
and language disorders (Turnbull et al., 2002).
Strategies for working with students with communication disorders
To accommodate students with communication disorders, teachers can adapt, augment, and alter the curriculum. One
tactic is to make classroom talk more interactive. For example,
- Rather than recycling formulaic questions, ask students questions with the potential for creative, self-engineered responses.
- Play games that stimulate students' ability to come up with hypothetical outcomes while having to engage cognitive skills
to organize the outcomes.
- Expand on students' gestures and utterances by paraphrasing their expressed message in a more descriptive, articulate
As students with communication disorders often do not understand inferred meanings in messages, another helpful practice
is to use more specific, direct commands when facilitating social interactions and teaching social skills (Turnbull et al.,
Communication disorders and linguistically and culturally diverse students
It is vital not to confuse students with linguistic and cultural differences for students with communication
disorders. In the United States alone, there are many variations of standard U.S. English. Different groups of
people employ different accents, grammar, vocabulary, and nonverbal communication. These dialects are not inferior to
standard U.S. English, but rather reflect the country's rich cultural diversity. In addition, many children grow up
with a language other than English in the home and learn English as a second language. These linguistically diverse
children face difficulties because different languages and dialects involve different grammar, word order, and social codes
of communication between speaker and listener. Furthermore, not only do different languages incorporate different sounds,
but they conceptualize sounds differently. While one language may differentiate between two sounds, speakers of another
language may perceive those same two sounds as indistinguishable. Hence, the challenges bi- and multi-lingual children
face in negotiating the contrary rules of the languages they are learning may cause them to appear to have language disorders.
School districts must be sensitive to the various backgrounds in which their students are being raised and consider the
language or dialect the student hears outside class when assessing the presence of communication disorders.
In order to evaluate linguistically diverse students in a fair and unbiased manner, speech-language pathologists must have
skills beyond those required to assess students who only speak standard U.S. English. Unfortunately, many students do
not receive evaluations appropriate to their linguistic background and are misrepresented in having communication disorders
(Turnbull et al., 2002).