Helping Children with Communication Disorders in the Schools

By: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Answers to frequently asked questions on how to help children with communication disorders, particularly in regards to speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

What kinds of speech and language disorders affect children?

Speech and language disorders can affect the way children talk, understand, analyze or process information. Speech disorders include the clarity, voice quality, and fluency of a child's spoken words. Language disorders include a child's ability to hold meaningful conversations, understand others, problem solve, read and comprehend, and express thoughts through spoken or written words.

How many children receive treatment for speech and language disorders in the schools?

The number of children with disabilities, ages 3-21, served in the public schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B in Fall 2003 was 6,068,802 (in the 50 states, D.C., and outlying areas). Of these children, 1,460,583 (24.1%) received services for speech or language disorders. This estimate does not include children who have speech/language problems secondary to other conditions.

How do speech, language, and hearing disorders affect learning?

Communication skills are at the heart of life's experience, particularly for children who are developing language critical to cognitive development and learning. Reading, writing, gesturing, listening, and speaking are all forms of language – a code we learn to use in order to communicate ideas.

Learning takes place through the process of communication. The ability to participate in active and interactive communication with peers and adults in the educational setting is essential for a student to succeed in school.

Why are speech and language skills so critical for literacy?

Spoken language provides the foundation for the development of reading and writing. Spoken and written language have a reciprocal relationship – each builds on the other to result in general language and literacy competence, starting early and continuing through childhood into adulthood.

What are signs that a communication disorder is affecting school performance?

Children with communication disorders frequently perform at a poor or insufficient academic level, struggle with reading, have difficulty understanding and expressing language, misunderstand social cues, avoid attending school, show poor judgement, and have difficulty with tests.

Difficulty in learning to listen, speak, read, or write can result from problems in language development. Problems can occur in the production, comprehension, and awareness of language at the sound, syllable, word, sentence, and discourse levels. Individuals with reading and writing problems also may experience difficulties in using language strategically to communicate, think, and learn.

How do speech-language pathologists work with teachers and other school personnel to insure children get the support they need?

Assessment and treatment of children's communication problems involve cooperative efforts with others such as parents, audiologists, psychologists, social workers, classroom teachers, special education teachers, guidance counselors, physicians, dentists, and nurses. Speech-language pathologists work with diagnostic and educational evaluation teams to provide comprehensive language and speech assessments for children.

Services to students with communication problems may be provided in individual or small group sessions, in classrooms or when teaming with teachers or in a consultative model with teachers and parents. Speech-language pathologists integrate students' communication goals with academic and social goals.

How can speech-language pathology services help children with speech and language disorders?

Speech-language pathology services can help children become effective communicators, problem-solvers and decision-makers. As a result of services such as memory retraining, cognitive reorganization, language enhancement, and efforts to improve abstract thinking, children can benefit from a more successful and satisfying educational experience as well as improved peer relationships. The services that speech-language pathologists provide can help children overcome their disabilities, achieve pride and self-esteem, and find meaningful roles in their lives.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

U.S. Department of Education. (2005). To assure the free appropriate public education of all Americans: Twenty-seventh annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Accessed January 16, 2008,

Republished with permission of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) © 2005


For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.


I work as a teacher with kids with speech and language disorders. Of course they need special treatment and help to achieve communication skills. But I like to work with them, because when they make even a small progress, they obtain self-esteem and find meaningful roles in lives. I am so proud of them!

I have an eight year old daughter with a speech problem. She use to communicate with us in mostly hand gestures until the age of 5 or 6. That's when she started speech therapy, it help her improve a lot, but now that she just turned eight I can notice she has not really improved anymore it's like she is "stuck" at the same level. Example if she is upset with her brother this is what she might say "He, not stop looking at me, it make me mad a lot, I say stop and he no listen to me!" I don't like it when my family makes comments about her being mentally retarded or something. She is very smart and love to read a lot. I thought with all the reading she does her speech might improve, but just last week her second grade teacher said that she was reading a pre kinder level. That can't be possible because if that were true why did they promote her to kindergarten to first grade to now second grade? I mention to the teacher about her speech problem, but she says they never tested her speech only made her read a story and answer a few question regarding the book. I asked my daughter about the test and she said she felt like she didn't get enough time to answer the questions. I don't know what to do and am pretty upset. Not at my daughter, not even with the teacher, but with myself. I wish I knew how to help her I don't want people to take advantage of her because of this problem. Can anyone give me some advice please.

Wow this is a great article. This definitely will help m with my homework!Lola, if you are still reading this thread waiting for an answer. I am not a professional or anything but I am currently an Education Major. Get your daughter tested and documented for having a speech disability and then have her reading re-tested. It may have been her speech that gave her the lower score. She has the right to free retesting at the request of the parent if you do not believe the test scores were accurate within the school or with someone not associated with the school on the school district's budget according to law. She also has the right, if she has a documented disability (including in speech) to get a modified test for her needs. You may want to think about getting your child a Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. From how this sounds you will probably need the 504 and the IEP would be too much. Yes, both are for special education but they may help her in-school. 504's aren't just for school but for all of life but they don't put the child in special education. With both your child can get free help with her disability until it is no longer needed. IEP's last until age 21, 504's last for life but you can always "cancel" them. It isn't publicized as much as in an IEP but in a 504 students can get extra help in school and tutors in speech. Hope this helped!!!

I am a kindergarten teacher and if anyone knows how to help students ability to answer, formulate, and ask a question that would be great! Looking for different types of interventions!

Talk to your speech-language pathologist to provide suggestions & to model in your classroom. Perfect entry into the classroom with RtI.

"How do speech-language pathologists work with teachers and other school personnel to *insure children get the support they need?"*Correction needed: The correct word is "ensure" not "insure".

Wow! I like this article. I am a kindergarten teacher, i teach kids with communication disorder. And if anyone could help, that would be great.

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