Speech language impairment refers to a communication disorder and is one of the 13 categories of disability under IDEA. These impairments may affect both receptive and expressive language and is one of the more common disabilities in younger children.

According to information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Children vary in their development of speech and language skills. Health care professionals have lists of milestones for what’s normal. These milestones help figure out whether a child is on track or if he or she may need extra help. For example, a child usually has one or two words like “Hi,” “dog,” “Dada,” or “Mama” by her first birthday.” The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has an excellent list of communicative milestones.

If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, consult your healthcare provider. It’s important to remember that early identification and speech  therapy services are effective tools in addressing these issues. Contact your local school district to request a free evaluation under the child find obligation under IDEA.

There are many kinds of speech and language disorders that can affect children.  Four major areas in which these impairments occur include:

  • Articulation | speech impairments where the child produces sounds incorrectly (e.g., lisp, difficulty articulating certain sounds, such as “l” or “r”);
  • Fluency | speech impairments where a child’s flow of speech is disrupted by sounds, syllables, and words that are repeated, prolonged, or avoided and where there may be silent blocks or inappropriate inhalation, exhalation, or phonation patterns;
  • Voice | speech impairments where the child’s voice has an abnormal quality to its pitch, resonance, or loudness; and
  • Language | language impairments where the child has problems expressing needs, ideas, or information, and/or in understanding what others say.

Some causes of speech and language disorders include hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury, intellectual disabilities, drug abuse, physical impairments such as cleft lip or palate, and vocal abuse or misuse. Frequently, however, the cause is unknown.

Utah’s Special Education Rules, pages 52-53,  define speech or language impairment as  a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.

(Some of this information was adapted from an information sheet from the Center for Parent Information and Resources. )

It’s very helpful to read more about speech and language impairments. The following are links to additional information:


ASHA | American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

NIDCD | National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Cleft Palate Foundation

Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America | CASANA

National Stuttering Foundation

Stuttering Foundation


Speech and Language

LD online provides information on speech and language deficits, recommends books, and discusses related areas.  

Understanding Language Disorders

The Understood website includes information on a variety of topics regarding language disorders.

Speech Language and Language Services in Schools

The role of speech language therapists in schools and information on communication disorders  are discussed here.

Accommodation Ideas for Speech Language Impairments

The Job Accommodation Network provides information on accommodations for the workplace.

Auditory Processing Disorder

From LDA of America: Also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, individuals with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even when the sounds are loud and clear enough to be heard. They can also find it difficult to tell where sounds are coming from, to make sense of the order of sounds, or to block out competing background noises.

Speech or Language Impairments

Information from Project IDEAL includes information on this category including teaching strategies.

Speech and Language Topic Categories

The National Association of Special Education Teachers provides this list of topics and articles about a variety of speech and language disorders.  

Top 10 Things you should know . . .about children with Specific Language Impairment

The Merrill Advanced Studies Center is a catalyst for scholarship on disabilities and policies that shape university research. Conferences and publications establish new directions and build collaborative projects in both science and policy. The Merrill Center is one of 12 centers in the The Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies

Helping Children with Communication Disorders in the Schools

Answers to frequently asked questions on how to help children with communication disorders, particularly in regards to speaking, listening, reading, and writing.