Speech and language impairments

Some children do not develop speech and language as expected. They may experience difficulties with any or all aspects of speech and language – from moving the muscles which control speech to the ability to understand or use language at all. These difficulties can range from the mild to the severe and long-term.

Sometimes these difficulties are unrelated to any other difficulty or disorder – they are therefore said to be specific language difficulties. Some children may have both a specific language difficulty and other disabilities.

Education and participation in society depend upon the ability to communicate. It is vital that children with speech and language impairments are offered comprehensive help as early as possible.

Different forms of speech and language impairment

  • speech apparatus – the mouth, tongue, nose, breathing and how they are co-ordinated and operated by muscles
  • phonology – the sounds that make up language
  • syntax or grammar – the way that words and parts of words combine in phrases and sentences
  • semantics – the meaning of sentences, words, and bits of words (semantic and pragmatic disorders)
  • pragmatics – how language is used in different situations and how feelings are conveyed (semantic and pragmatic disorders)
  • intonation and stress (prosody) – the rhythm and music of the way we speak


Afasic SLIWithin these areas some children may have difficulties in understanding language (receptive difficulties), some in using language (expressive difficulties), and some in both understanding and using language.

Afasic publishes Glossary Sheets which explain these speech and language difficulties in greater detail.

How many children have speech and language impairments?
6 in 100 children will at some stage have a speech, language or communication difficulty.
NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination: Pre-school hearing, speech, language and vision screening (Effective Health Care Volume 4 No 2, 1998)
At least 1 in 500 children experiences severe, long-term difficulties.

Articles of interest
The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists’ April Bulletin featured a couple of articles about SLI which may be of interest.

RCSLT Bulletin article - Where are the boundaries? (482.3 KiB, 2,755 hits)

RCSLT Bulletin article - SLI: the invisible neuro-developmental disorder (115.1 KiB, 3,328 hits)

For more information about speech and language impairments, please contact us.