Communication Disorders in Children

What are communication disorders in children?

A child with a communication disorder has trouble communicating with others. He or she may not understand or make the sounds of speech. The child may also struggle with word choice, word order, or sentence structure.

There are several types of these disorders. They are:

  • Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder. A child has developmental delays and problems understanding spoken language and speaking.
  • Expressive language disorder. A child has developmental delays and problems speaking.
  • Speech-sound disorders. A child has a hard time expressing words clearly past a certain age.
  • Childhood-onset fluency disorder. This is also known as stuttering. It starts in childhood and can last throughout life.
  • Social communication disorder. A child has trouble with verbal and nonverbal communication that is not caused by thinking problems.

What causes communication disorders in a child?

Communication disorders may be developmental. Or they can be caused by:

  • Physical problems such as a problem in brain development
  • Exposure to poisons (toxins) during pregnancy, such as street drugs or lead
  • Gene problems

Which children are at risk for communication disorders?

Boys tend to be diagnosed with these disorders more often than girls. Researchers don’t know why. Children with these conditions often have other mental health problems.

What are the symptoms of communication disorders in a child?

Each child may have different symptoms. But these are the most common symptoms in a young child:

  • Not speaking at all
  • Limited word choice for his or her age
  • Trouble grasping simple directions or naming objects

Most young children with these disorders are able to speak by the time they enter school. But they still have problems with communicating.

School-aged children often have problems understanding and making words. Teens may have more trouble understanding or expressing abstract ideas.

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are communication disorders diagnosed in a child?

Most children with these disorders are referred to a speech-language pathologist. This is a speech expert who treats children who are having problems communicating. Your child may also see a child psychiatrist. That is often the case if the child has emotional or behavioral problems.

A full evaluation may involve:

  • Psychological testing of thinking abilities
  • Psychometric testing to check a child’s reasoning skills, reactions to different situations, and thinking. It does not test general knowledge.

How are communication disorders treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

A speech-language pathologist will work with your child to improve his or her communication skills. Treatment is often a team effort. Parents, teachers, and mental health experts may also be involved. Treatment may include:

  • Individual or group support
  • Special classes

How can I help prevent communication disorders in my child?

Experts don’t know at this time how to prevent these disorders in children. But finding them early and taking action right away can help with your child’s development and school issues. They can improve the child’s quality of life.

How can I help my child live with a communication disorder?

You can do certain things to take care of your child with a communication disorder:

  • Keep all appointments with your child’s healthcare provider.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about other providers who will be involved in your child’s care. Your child may get care from a team that may include experts like speech-language pathologists and counselors. Your child’s care team will depend on your child’s needs and the severity of the communication disorder.
  • Tell others about your child’s disorder. Work with your child’s healthcare provider and schools to develop a treatment plan.
  • Seek support from local community services. Being in touch with other parents who have a child with a communication disorder may be helpful.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse
  • New symptoms

Key points about communication disorders in children

  • A child with a communication disorder has trouble communicating with others.
  • The cause may be biological or environmental, such as being exposed to lead.
  • Some common symptoms are not speaking at all and having trouble expressing words.
  • A speech-language pathologist often treats a communication disorder in a child.
  • Finding the problem early and taking action right away can help with your child’s development and school problems related to communication disorders.
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