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Common Types Of Speech Impediments Explained

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Speech impediments—a phrase is often thrown but hardly understood. They aren't character flaws or something to brush off lightly. Communication issues can make life tough for people who deal with them daily. Understanding speech impediment issues helps us show empathy and support for those with them.

Remember, living with a speech impediment isn't a choice—cope or conquer it is. As we learn more, we understand they are more than stutters or lisps. They're silent battles fought every day. This is an opportunity for us to lend support through enhanced understanding and shared respect.

In our daily interactions, we can make a significant impact. We can do this by listening, respecting their struggles, and appreciating their courage. Remember, understanding is the cradle of support. We learn, we grow, and together, we conquer.

Understanding Speech Impediments

Speech impediments involve troubles with voice or actual speech sounds—consonants, vowels, or both. They interfere with one's ability to communicate or articulate thoughts effectively. Some pose a significant hurdle socially, academically, or occupationally. To better support and relate to those with speech impediments, it helps to understand the different types and levels of challenges they face.

Navigating Stutters

Stutters usually stir up visual imagery of duplicated words or parts of words. However, stuttering is more complicated. It also includes longer sounds and pauses that disrupt speech fluency. You'll witness people begging for that elusive word to go off the tip of the tongue.

But what's the culprit? The answer is neurological. The brain and muscles working together for speech are not synchronized. People who stutter know what they want to say but need help to speak fluently.

Decoding Lisps

A lisp is another everyday speech impediment. The infliction is primarily with the letters S and Z. People with a lisp pronounce these sounds as "th." Witness someone say "thun" instead of Sun? That's a lisp playing its mischief.

Lisps originate from incorrect tongue placements in the mouth. If your tongue hits the front teeth when saying S and Z, that's called a lisp.


Apraxia of speech is another form of speech impediment and is quite nasty in its play. Apraxia of speech is different from stutters or lisps. Instead, it's an issue with the motor skill programming involved in speech.

People with apraxia struggle to coordinate the speech muscles in their brains. They understand the language perfectly and know what they wish to say. But the necessary complex motor movements evade them, disrupting smooth speech.


Another impediment to consider is dysarthria, resulting from nerve or muscle damage. It hinders speaking when these parts don't work well. Controlling the tongue and managing breath becomes difficult.

Dysarthria is different from stuttering. It needs help struggling to form words correctly. Dysarthria patients know what to say but struggle to say the words physically.

Phonological Disorders

This speech problem depends on knowing and using speech sound rules. Typically, younger children grapple with such issues while learning language rules. But when these problems persist and impact intelligibility, it's labeled a phonological disorder.

Individuals struggling with phonological disorders encounter set sound patterns they seemingly can't break. To outsiders, pronunciation errors may come across as child-like talk. But in reality, it's a complex issue requiring professional attention.

Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is when someone struggles to speak in specific social situations while being acceptable to others. It's often linked to shyness or social anxiety. Selective mutism usually begins in childhood and is often connected to extreme shyness or social anxiety.

Selective mutism can disrupt learning in school due to its impact on communication. In certain situations, someone with selective mutism can't speak due to anxiety, even if they know how to use language.

Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis is a speech problem caused by nerve damage from surgery, accidents, strokes, or tumors. The result? Difficulty in swallowing and even breathing. Speech production is severely affected when the vocal cords do not open and close smoothly.

People with vocal cord paralysis often have a hoarse or whispered speech. The pitch could be too high or low, making it easier to transition between pitches. But safety is also a concern due to difficulty swallowing, leading to recurring pneumonia and lung problems.

Articulation and Phonological Troubles

Finally, we touch on speech sound disorders, comprising articulation and phonological disorders. People with articulation disorders struggle to produce certain sounds, which makes their words hard to understand. Sounds are often switched or left out, making it harder to understand each other.

Phonological disorders, as we've discussed, relate to predictable, regular patterns of sound errors. Children with phonological disorders often substitute sounds made at the back of the mouth, such as "k" and "g," with front-mouth sounds like "t" and "d." In such cases, 'cat' might become 'tat,' and 'game' turns into 'dame.'

They learn sound patterns while learning language rules but don't stop using them as they age. This pattern then molds into a phonological disorder, impacting clear communication.

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