Speech Disorders: Research, Impact, and Treatment
By: Vamshi Pothireddy
Humans learn exponentially as a child. Learning begins as the brain develops. However, developmental barriers and slowdowns occur to many children in their infant years. According to studies, 75% of children around the age of 5 experience at least a mild form of cognitive delay. This effect can be related to genetics, social development, and household behavior.
Children living in households with more social interaction tend to not have speech disorders. Speech impediments are primarily based on the child's environment. The lack of social relationships can lead to speech disorders due to inattention from family members. Parents need to continue to develop social interactions with their children. Consequently, many children with speech disorders tend to develop mild forms of autism.
A common form of speech comprehension as a child is a technique known as “imitation”. When born, infant humans observe their surroundings. Children naturally imitate their mothers vocally. To motivate children to develop their vocal abilities and vocabulary, parents will praise children to create new resonating vocal sounds. When babies intentionally vocalize, they "coo" to hear their voice and repeat the sounds.
A theory of language development by Noam Chomsky suggests that infants are neurologically equipped with the ability to learn a language and speak when they grow up. His theory suggests that language develops as long as the person is exposed to language. According to this theory, kids with speech disorders develop their speech impediments because parents don't pay attention to their children.
Research has shown to prove that the start of speech and coherent sentences occurs at the age of 4. This age is where children develop complexity in their sentences, grammar, and vocabulary. As children start to talk and communicate, complex reasoning and abstract concepts develop. To that end, children can speak fluently. With more speech and conversation, the repetition will improve a child's linguistic ability.
Children who have developed speech disorders are at risk for emotional and behavioral problems. This in turn leads children to be unable to develop their emotions and feelings into verbal thoughts. Many times, the speech disorders spiral and in turn lead to limiting employment and opportunities in the future years.
It is imperative to minimize the effects of the child’s speech impediment so that they can effectively communicate. As a result, language theorist Skinner suggested that language develops through reinforcement from parents. This theory implies that gestures or sounds that are encouraged and praised by the parents will increase the likelihood of repetition. This theory accounts for parents giving low attention to children causing the development of speech disorders.
Currently, the most accurate diagnosis of speech disorders consists of tests measuring complex skills such as creating sentences, imaging, and recreating pictures and vivid language. The benefit of this system is to represent the level of the person’s linguistic ability. Although accurate, this technique does not provide specific treatments or methods to improve a person’s speech production rates.
Clinical researchers, in an attempt to find more accurate solutions, have researched and invested in genetic and neurological research in order to identify any specific points in the brain that might help speech-language researchers create treatments for improving speech therapy.
Current speech treatment focuses on the improvement of the thought process, clarification of the framework of social interaction, and the development of certain speech skills. These speech methods are used by speech therapists to slowly start improving the patient’s speech enunciation.
Speech research includes a stage called “motor planning” which is a speech therapy group that aims to identify and improve specific sequences of articulation. The target is for the patient to adopt the phonetic understanding of the language. With the help of professionals, the person with a speech impediment will receive in-depth practice to smoothen their sentence structure and improve their linguistic thought process.
In addition to “motor planning”, the research also targets “motor programming”. This method takes into consideration the articulation of the mouth, sensory understanding, and enunciation. This process, although strenuous, is very effective in enhancing the patient’s ability to speak in front of a public. Eventually, through motor planning and motor programming, a person with a speech impediment can understand how to handle social situations.
MRI imaging of the brain with studies have greatly advanced our understanding of sections of the brain related to speech production and usage. Specifically, Marchina, the main author, and colleagues analyzed the effects of continuous speech repetition on neural activity in patients with speech disorders. From Marchina’s study, there is a prominent link between sensory skills and speech production. The research identified a linear relationship between the repetition of speaking rates as well as activation of the SMA, supplementary motor area.
The results showed that the usage of language, whether spoken or thought, produced increased neural activity which promoted habitual speech tendencies. Newest research studies show that practicing continual speech will activate more regions of the supplementary motor area of the brain. This research helps scientists understand the underlying modulations of speech which will help to diagnose and treat speech disorders. Improving a speech disorder will not only help a person develop conversational skills but also emotional skills as well.
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