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Physical Impairments

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 24 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Physical Impairments physical

Speech difficulties and disorders are those that are related to an individual’s ability to verbally communicate. In some cases speech difficulties and disorders are in and of themselves, however, in some cases these difficulties and disorders are the result of an associated condition or impairment.

For some individuals it is a physical impairment such as a cleft lip, cleft palate or vocal cord disorder that results in the speech difficulties, which makes verbal communication inefficient. In theory, if these impairments are treated or corrected then the speech difficulty will improve or even disappear, however in reality the prognosis for each individual will be unique.

Cleft Lip

A cleft lip is a type of birth defect that results when the tissues of the lip do not form correctly during foetal development. These tissues do not grow together properly, meaning that the child is born with a gap in the skin of upper lip. The skin instead attaches to the base of the nose. Sometimes cleft lips are only discovered after birth, though often they can be diagnosed through a prenatal ultrasound.

Most often surgeries to correct cleft lips are carried out in the first year or 18 months of life, though treatment options will be decided by the parents in tandem with the medical specialists involved. Even if surgery is performed and is successful it can leave irregularities, which may later affect the child’s speech. If this occurs, the child will likely need to attend speech therapy to overcome these difficulties.

Cleft Palate

Like a cleft lip, a cleft palate is a type of birth defect that results when the tissues of the palate, and sometimes also the lip, do not form correctly during foetal development. These tissues do not grow together properly, meaning that the child is born with a gap in the roof of his or her mouth and the base of his or her nose, sometimes in association with a gap in the skin of upper lip.

Also like cleft lips, cleft palates can often be diagnosed via a pre-natal ultrasound and are often able to be corrected (usually to a certain extent) through surgeries that occur in the first year or 18 months of life. Again, treatment options will be decided by the parents in tandem with the medical specialists involved and even if surgery is performed and is successful there still may be physical irregularities, which may later affect the child’s speech. Speech therapy will likely be able to have a positive effect on such a speech difficulty.

Vocal Cord Disorders

Vocal cords, the two bands of muscle located at the back of the larynx, sometimes called the voice box, produce the sound of the voice by vibrating as air is drawn into and pushed out of the lungs. If these muscles are damaged and cannot vibrate correctly, the voice is affected and verbal communication becomes impaired or even impossible. In some cases it is harsh treatment that leads to trouble with the vocal cords, such as damage that results from cigarette smoking, excessive use of the vocal cords in talking or singing, or even inhaling harmful substances.

However there are some vocal cord disorders that are not connected to an individual’s behaviour. Nodules and polyps can grow on the vocal cords, ulcers can develop and the cords themselves can become paralysed. Sometimes medication and/or surgery can effectively treat these disorders, though sometimes speech therapy will be recommended to help overcome these obstacles to communication if nothing can be done to treat them directly.

Physical impairments can cause or exacerbate speech difficulties by leaving individuals physically unable to produce speech in a normal manner. Most often speech therapy is able to improve or overcome these difficulties.

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