Understanding communication disorders

Understanding communication disorders

Ahmed Raza

A communication disorder is an individual’s inability to process, send, receive, or comprehend concepts or follow graphic, verbal, and nonverbal symbols. Communication disorders can occur in the process of speech, language, or hearing and may vary from mild to severe ones.

There may be one or a combination of communication disorders in an individual that have a number of causes. A communication disorder may create a disability or it may be a result of some other disabilities.

About 10% of American children have one or more types of communication disorders.

What are the major causes of communication disorders?

There are a number of causes of communication disorders, including:


Communication disorders may be divided into the following categories:

Language disorders

Language disorders are a type of communication disorder. It is not a speech disorder, rather it is related to difficulty in using and understanding spoken words.

Language disorders are usually developmental. They occur in early childhood and continue till adulthood. A brain injury or illness may also result in a language disorder. They’re not due to lack of intelligence. A language disorder makes it difficult to learn or connect with others.

Language disorders can be divided into three main types:

  1. Expressive language disorder: Those with this type of disorder have difficulty conveying their message while talking. They may struggle to put words together into sentences.
  2. Receptive language disorder: People with this disorder feel it is difficult to understand what others are saying. They often are confused or may respond inappropriately.
  3. Mixed receptive-expressive language issues: This is a combination of the above two types of language disorders. In mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, people struggle with both using and understanding others’ language.

Speech-sound disorders

Normally young children learning a language have some difficulty pronouncing words correctly. It’s not unusual, it is a normal part of the learning process. However, some children have speech sound disorders. They have trouble saying certain words and sounds beyond the expected age. This may make it difficult to understand the person with speech-sound disorders.

Speech sound problems consist of articulation disorder and phonological process disorder.

Normally, a speech sound disorder has no specific cause, except that some children have a family history of speech or developmental delay. Some other children may have a neurological or structural impairment that may lead to the disorder.

Childhood-onset fluency disorder

Stuttering, also called stammering or childhood-onset fluency disorder, is a speech disorder that leads to significant and frequent problems in the flow of speech and normal fluency. People with this disorder know what they mean to say, but can’t say it.

For instance, they may repeat or prolong a syllable, a word, or a consonant or vowel sound. They may also pause before completing a thought. For some, stuttering is a chronic condition that continues even in adulthood. This type of stuttering can have an impact on one’s confidence while interacting with other people.

Childhood-onset fluency disorder develops between the ages of 2-7 years in 80 to 90% of cases. In children learning how to speak, mild stuttering is common. However, it becomes a fluency disorder when it continues for a longer period and causes problems for a child.

Stuttering is more common in males as compared to females. Many adults and children can be successfully treated by speech therapy, using electronic devices, or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Social pragmatic communication disorder (SPCD)

Social pragmatic communication disorder (SPCD) affects both verbal and nonverbal communication skills making it difficult to communicate with others. Social communication disorders may be related to other communication difficulties.

The occurrence and prevalence rates of this disorder are not yet well known. This diagnosis was recently added to DSM. However, according to preliminary research, about seven and a half percent of children have difficulties with social pragmatic communication. Like shuttering it is also more common in males than females.

Who is at risk for communication disorders?

Those with brain injuries have a higher risk of suffering from these disorders. However, some conditions may occur spontaneously due to the onset of aphasia, which causes the inability to use or comprehend language. About one million people have aphasia in the United States.

Communication disorders are commonly found in children. According to research by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Diseases (NIDCD), eight to nine percent of young children suffer from a speech sound disorder. This ratio is as low as five percent in the first grade.

Communication disorders are also found in adults. About 7.5 million adults have communication disorders in the United States. Moreover, six to eight million adults suffer from language-related problems.

Can you prevent communication disorders?

There is no specific way to prevent communication disorders, except adopting a healthy lifestyle and avoiding known risk factors, such as anything that may result in injury to the brain.

The primary cause of communication disorders are unknown. Whenever communication disorders are suspected, the person should be referred to medical care and speech therapy.

How do you manage communication disorders?

Treating the communication disorder means different things for each patient. Some people may use American Sign Language or an assistive device to help with communication. Speech therapy is also an option.

Works cited

Last reviewed and updated by on Mar 6, 2022

Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.

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