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Speech Impairments Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Someone with a speech impairment may have difficulty with articulation (production of speech sounds), voice (pitch, resonance, or loudness), or fluency (flow of speech).

Many kids and teens with speech impairments have oral-motor problems, meaning there’s inefficient communication in the areas of the brain responsible for speech production. Speech impairments also can be part of a more general developmental delay or related to medical conditions such as a hearing impairment, weak muscles around the mouth, cleft lip or palate, vocal nodules or hoarseness, autism, or a breathing or swallowing disorder.

More than 3 million Americans have the speech disorder known as stuttering, or stammering. It’s a problem that interferes with fluent speech.

Lisping is an articulation disorder and refers to a specific substitution involving the letters “s” and “z.” A person who lisps replaces those sounds with “th.”

Students with speech impairments may:

  • feel very nervous, embarrassed, and frustrated when they’re talking in class
  • have to miss class time to attend speech therapy programs, in or out of school
  • use relaxation techniques to help them speak more clearly
  • need more time to orally answer questions in class or for tests
  • need seating accommodations, such as sitting in a front row, if their speech problems are related to a hearing impairment
  • use assistive technology to better communicate in class

Students with speech impairments also are at risk for being targeted by bullies.

What Teachers Can Do

Because speech impairments can isolate students from their classmates, it is essential that teachers provide students with help and support. Be patient when students with speech impairments are speaking. Be a role model to your other students about the importance of not interrupting and letting people finish their own sentences.

Ask questions in a way that lets the student give a brief answer, or consider substituting written work for oral presentations.

Consult with your student’s speech therapist, other special educators, or parents to learn about specific needs. You can also talk privately with the student and get his or her input on what’s helpful and what’s not.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013