Common Speech Impediments: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And Support

Medically reviewed by Lauren Fawley , LPC
Updated March 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Speech impediments include a variety of both language- and speech-based disorders, some of which can be addressed through online speech therapy with speech-language pathologists. They can arise because of heredity, and genetics, developmental delays, or even damage to Broca’s area—the part of the brain that’s involved in language and speech skills. They may also be linked to other conditions like autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, or even hearing loss. It depends on the type and the cause, but some speech impediments and speech impairments can be treated through speech therapy. That said,

recognizing when a speech impediment may be present can help you get yourself or your child the treatment and support they may need for improved academic and/or social functioning and self-confidence.

Common Symptoms Of A Speech Impediment

There are many different types of speech impediments a person can have, so the symptoms can vary. That said, those listed below are common symptoms that could be initial indicators that you or your child may be experiencing speech problems or speech challenges:

  • Elongating words

  • Quiet or muffled speech

  • Blinking frequently

  • Distorted sounds while talking

  • Frequent changes in pitch

  • Poor voice quality

  • Stuttering

  • Visible frustration when trying to communicate

  • Overall difficulty in expressing thoughts and ideas

  • Inability to repeat words

  • Inability to pronounce words the same way twice

  • A phobia of speaking in public

  • Speaking slowly and carefully

  • Speech delay
  • Frequent pauses when talking

  • Limited vocabulary over several years, delayed language development

Again, note that some speech and language disorders are consistent with or are a symptom of underlying mental health conditions such as autism. You can visit with licensed health professionals or speech therapists to receive an accurate diagnosis and find out how to treat a speech impediment or language disorder, and its underlying cause, if applicable.

Key Categories Of Speech Impediments

Speech impediments or communication disorders can take many forms, from speech sound disorders to voice-related disorders. While speech sound disorders mostly result from sensory or motor causes, voice-related disorders deal with physical problems regarding speech. Read on for a list of some of the most common categories of speech impediments.

Voice Disorders

Voice disorders primarily arise due to issues regarding the health and structure of the larynx or the voice box. They can impact pitch, resonance, volume, and voice quality. Symptoms of a voice disorder may include having a hoarse, quivering, strained, choppy, or weak and whispery voice, which can make it difficult to produce expressive language.

The root cause of these disorders can be either organic, like from alterations to respiratory, laryngeal, or vocal tract mechanisms, or functional, like from improper use of the voice. Some risk factors that may contribute to vocal health challenges include allergies, psychological stress, age, excessive alcohol or drug use, screaming, scarring from neck surgery, or even gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Examples of voice disorders include laryngitis, vocal cord paralysis/weakness, polyps or nodes present on the vocal cords, leukoplakia, or muscle tension dysphonia.

Fluency Disorders

A person may be diagnosed with a fluency disorder if they have trouble with speech timing and rhythm which makes it difficult to create a normal speech pattern. These disorders are characterized by interruptions in the typical flow of speaking, including abnormal repetitions, hesitation, and prolongations. Their cause is unknown, but it may be genetic. Symptoms can also be exacerbated by stress and anxiety. Stuttering is the most common example of a fluency disorder. 

Symptoms of a fluency disorder may include dragging out syllables, speaking breathlessly, repetition of words, speaking slowly, and being tense while speaking. Secondary symptoms may include fidgeting, mumbling, saying “um” or “uh” often, not using certain problematic words, rearranging words in sentences, and anxiety around speaking. Treatment options vary depending on the specific disorder. With stuttering, for example, slowing down, practicing, using speech monitors, attending speech therapy, and receiving cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are all potential treatment options.

Articulation Disorders and Phonological Disorders

Articulation and phonological disorders are are two types of speech disorders classified as speech sound disorders that may impact communication. An articulation disorder includes speech that commonly exhibits errors such as substitution, omission, distortion, and/or addition (SODA). Although the actual causes of articulation disorders aren’t well understood, contributing factors may include brain injuries, a cleft palate/cleft lip, or nerve damage. Phonological disorders typically involve producing sounds correctly but using them in the wrong place and are more predictable than articulation disorder errors. There may also be a genetic factor that contributes to both disorders and other family members may be impacted as well. A licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) can determine if an individual may have an articulation disorder or a phonological  disorder. Ongoing speech therapy is typically the recommended treatment method.

Speech Impediments Versus Language Impairments

A speech impediment is typically characterized by difficulty creating sound due to factors like fluency disorders or other voice problems. These disorders may arise from underlying mental health issues, neurological problems, or physical factors or conditions impacting speech muscles.

Language impairments, on the other hand, are more about difficulty processing, reading and writing and can be connected to an issue processing receptive language. They’re common in children, especially when they first start school. Language impairments relate to meaning, whereas speech impediments relate to sound. It’s also very common for a language impairment disorder to present alongside a learning disability like dyslexia.

Examples Of Speech Impediments

Below is a brief overview of a few of the most common speech disorders and speech impediments, along with symptoms and potential treatment options.


Apraxia of speech is a speech sound disorder that affects the pathways of the brain. It’s characterized by a person having difficulty expressing their thoughts accurately and consistently. It involves the brain being able to form the words and knowing exactly what to say, but the person then being unable to properly execute the required speech movements to deliver accurate sounds. In mild cases, a person will only have difficulty with a few speech sounds. In severe cases, alternate communication methods may need to be used.

An SLP is the type of provider who can diagnose apraxia. To diagnose both childhood apraxia and acquired apraxia, they may ask the individual to perform simple speech tasks like repeating a particular word several times or repeating a list of words that increase in length. Apraxia generally needs to be monitored by both parents and an SLP over a period of time for an accurate diagnosis to be possible.

There are various treatment options for apraxia, the most common being one-on-one meetings with a speech pathologist. They’ll likely help you or your child build helpful strategies and skills to help strengthen problem areas and communicate more clearly. Some other treatment methods include improving speech intelligibility or using alternate forms of communication, like electronic speech or manual signs and gestures.


The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders describes aphasia as a communication disorder that results in a person’s inability to speak, write, and/or understand language. Like other communication disorders, it may occur as a result of damage to the portions of the brain that are involved in language, which is common in those who have experienced a stroke. It may also come on gradually in those who have a tumor or a progressive neurological disease like Alzheimer’s. Symptoms may include saying or writing sentences that don’t make sense, an inability to understand conversation, and substituting certain sounds and words for others.

Since this disorder is usually caused by damage to parts of the brain, it will typically first be recognized in an MRI or CT scan that can confirm the presence of a brain injury. The extent and type of aphasia can generally only be determined by observing the affected part of the brain and determining how extensively it has been damaged, which is often done with the help of an SLP.

Treatment options for aphasia can be restorative (aimed at restoring impaired function) or compensatory (aimed at compensating for deficits).


Dysarthria is usually caused by brain damage or facial paralysis that affects the muscles of the jaw, tongue, or throat, which may result in difficulty speaking. It may also be caused by other conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, or a stroke. It’s considered a nervous system disorder, subclassified as a motor speech disorder. It’s commonly seen in those who already have other speech disorders, such as aphasia or apraxia. Symptoms of dysarthria include slurred speech, speaking too slowly, speaking too quickly, speaking very softly, being unable to move one’s lips or jaw, and having monotonous speech.

Dysarthria can be diagnosed by an expert in speech language pathology through an exam and tests like MRI, CT, or electromyography. Treatment depends upon the severity and rate of progression of the disorder. Some potential examples include tactics like slowing down while talking, doing exercises to help strengthen jaw muscles, moving the lips and tongue more, and learning strategies for speaking more loudly. Hand gestures and speech machines may also help. 

What May Happen If Speech Or Language Impediments Are Left Untreated

It is important to treat speech disorders, the consequences of an untreated speech or language impediment can vary widely depending on the type, symptoms, and severity, as well as the age and life situation of the individual. In general, it’s usually helpful to seek professional advice on treating speech disorders as soon as you notice or suspect an impediment in yourself or your child. Especially for moderate to severe cases, some potential effects of leaving these common speech disorders untreated can include:

  • Poor academic performance/dropping out of school

  • Decrease in quality of life

  • Social anxiety and an inability to connect with people

  • Damaged relationships

  • Social isolation

  • Hospitalization

Seeking Professional Support

Meeting with an SLP is usually the recommended first step for someone who believes they or their child may have a speech impediment. If you have a teenager with dyslexia, there are resources for dyslexic teens that can give supportive information about the condition. A medical doctor may also provide helpful insights and ask about your family history when it comes to speech and language related issues as they can be hereditary. While these professionals can help with the physical aspects of a variety of speech and language impediments, you or your child may also benefit from emotional support in relation to the mental health effects of having an impediment. A therapist may be able to provide this type of guidance. If your child is experiencing a speech impediment, a counselor may be able to work with them to process their feelings of frustration and learn healthy coping mechanisms for stress. They can help you manage the same feelings if you receive a speech or language impediment diagnosis, or may be able to support you in your journey of parenting a child with a speech or language impediment diagnosis.

In addition to support at home, teenagers with a diagnosed speech impairment or impediment can receive special education services at school. The Center for Disease Control notes that under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and section 504, schools must provide support and accommodations for students with speech disorders.

Meeting with a therapist in person is always an option if there are providers in your area. That said, many people find it less intimidating or more comfortable to meet with a therapist virtually. For example, a teen who is experiencing a speech or language impediment may feel better interacting with a counselor through the online chat feature that virtual therapy platforms like TeenCounseling provide. It may allow them to express themselves more clearly than they could face to face or over the phone. Parents who need support in caring for a child with a speech or language impediment may find the accessibility and convenience of meeting with a therapist through an online therapy service like BetterHelp to be most beneficial. Research suggests that online and in-person therapy offer similar benefits for a variety of conditions, so you can choose the format that’s best for you.

Counselor Reviews

See below for reviews of TeenCounseling therapists written by parents who sought help for their children through this service. 

“Kathleen has been good for my daughter to talk to. I am thankful for her to give my daughter someone else's perspective other than her parents. Thank you.”

“I love Ms. Jones. She doesn’t over talk or judge you. She gives really good advice and if you're confused she knows how to break it down or explain whatever it is so you can understand. If you need to talk about anything, she’s always an open ear and responds quickly. Not only does she give you points from others perspective but she steps into yours so she can understand why certain things are the way they are. My first session I was nervous and I think she could tell. She’ll crack a joke every now and then to make me feel more comfortable. She’s just such a bundle of joy and a good counselor to have.”


Speech and language impediments can vary widely in terms of types, causes, symptoms, and severity. These are diagnosed by professionals in the field of speech and language pathology or by a medical doctor. A therapist can provide emotional support for those who are having difficulty coping with their own or their child’s diagnosis or other related challenges.

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