Communication Disorders

Communication disorders involve difficulties in expressing speech, understanding language, and using communication.  Communication disorders can affect a child’s speaking, listening, reading, writing, and social relationships. Speech includes a child’s articulation and pronunciation of sounds as well as the pitch, rhythm, and fluency of their voice.  Language includes the rule-based system for communicating and the meaning of words.  Communication involves both verbal and nonverbal exchange of information with others.  Children can have delays or difficulties in some or all of these facets of communication. It is important to assess and distinguish communication difficulties on their own as well as in combination with other disorders such as autism or adhd.  

Early Signs and Symptoms

Assessment of communication difficulties must always take into consideration age-level appropriateness alongside a child’s cultural and language specific context. The earlier a communication disorder is identified, the better the outcome.  Parents can seek an evaluation at the earliest indication.

A few early signs in toddlers and preschool age include:

  • Delays and difficulties in the production of gestures, vocalizations, words, or sentences.  For example, no babbling by 9 months, no single words by 15 months, and no two-word phrases by 2 years of age.
  • Delays and difficulties in the understanding of gestures, vocalizations, words, or sentences. 
  • Delays and difficulties in the use of language to get needs met or for social purposes.


Approximately 9% of children in the US have a communication disorder.  In young children, boys, and non-Hispanic black children were more likely than other children to have been identified with a communication disorder, according to the National Health Interview Survey.


Infants are born ready to learn language, but they need a lot of exposure to words everyday.  Children learn language by listening to others speak, watching them use gestures, and copying and practicing making sounds. Even young babies notice when others repeat and respond to the noises and sounds they make. Children’s language and brain skills get stronger the more words and language they are exposed to.  Importantly, being multilingual or learning more than one language at once does not cause speech delays or communication disorders.

Some communication disorders have a physical cause such as oral-motor difficulties, cleft-palate, or hearing loss.  There is also a strong genetic link with 50-70% of children with a communication disorder having a family member who also has a speech or language disorder.  


Speech and language pathologists provide the interventions and treatments for communication disorders.  These therapies can be accessed in state early intervention programs, privately,  and through the school system. 

Parents and caregivers can provide a lot of support and helpful intervention at home everyday simply by increasing the amount of language the child is exposed to. Reading, singing, and having back and forth conversations all foster communication development. The more words a child hears everyday in the early years, the more words a child will come to know.