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Speech Disorders Factsheet (for Schools)

What Teachers Should Know

Speech disorders can make it hard to communicate. Someone may have trouble with:

  • articulation (production of speech sounds), such as lisping, when a person substitutes the letters “s” and “z” with “th”
  • voice: the pitch and volume of sounds made
  • fluency (flow of speech), such as stuttering or stammering

Sometimes kids with speech disorders have oral–motor problems. This means the muscles used to create speech aren’t working properly. Speech disorders also can be related to conditions like a developmental delay, autism, a hearing disorder, weak muscles around the mouth, cleft lip or palate, hoarseness, and breathing or swallowing disorders.

Treatment for a speech problems focuses on speech-language therapy to improve skills. The sooner therapy begins, the better.

What Teachers Can Do

Students with speech disorders may benefit from individualized education programs (IEPs) or 504 education plans. Many kids see a speech-language pathologist during the school day. Therapy may be one or more times a week, depending on the severity of the problem.

Kids with speech problems can feel stressed and anxious, which can make it even harder to talk and express themselves. A student may speak slowly in class and should be given plenty of time to express thoughts. It’s not helpful to interrupt or complete a sentence for the student, and might embarrass them.

To support students in your classroom:

  • Move students closer to you. A child may need to sit closer to you if speech problems are related to a hearing problem. 
  • Give extra time to complete assignments or make up work when needed.
  • Substitute written papers or projects for oral presentations, or allow a student to demonstrate learning one-on-one with you. Asking questions in a way that lets the student give a brief answer can also help. 
  • Use technology to make learning easier. A special education teacher, speech-language pathologist, or the student’s family may be able to suggest the best programs or devices to use.
  • Be patient when students with speech disorders speak. Be a role model to your other students about the importance of not interrupting and letting people finish their own sentences.
  • Talk about and celebrate differences. Students with speech problems want to be accepted like everyone else. But sometimes they’re targeted by others who see them as “different.” Talk about and celebrate differences, and focus on the interests that kids share. Be mindful of bullying, and keep a zero-tolerance policy for that behavior.

By addressing special needs and offering support when needed, you can help students with a speech disorder learn as best as possible.