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What is Communication Impairment?

By Deneatra Harmon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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When a person experiences difficulty expressing him- or herself, a disability known as communication impairment may be the reason. Communication impairment affects a person's voice, language, speech, and hearing patterns, resulting in problems with articulation or socialization skills. Children or adults may experience communication impairment because of hearing loss, a brain injury, or other genetic factors. Common treatments include speech and language therapy.

Voice-related communication impairment becomes a problem when quality, loudness, or pitch appears to not match the individual. For example, a person may use a tone of voice that is too low, too high, or too deep. The awkward voice quality or tone may draw more attention than what the person is actually trying to communicate.

Communication impairment also affects language. In this case, a person has trouble understanding words and their meanings. Other difficulties include improper grammar or sentence patterns and problems with expressing thoughts or ideas. Malapropism may also be an issue, i.e., when a person with a speech disorder unintentionally misuses similar-sounding words and phrases. A person with a language-related communication impairment may also find it challenging to follow directions or to socialize with others.

Speech-related communication disorders impair a person's ability to pronounce words, letters, and sounds, resulting in conditions such as aphasia, which occurs when a person knows what to say, but has trouble actually expressing it. A person with aphasia may also have trouble reading or identifying objects. Stuttering is considered to be another speech problem that disrupts the flow of speech and causes the person to involuntarily hesitate or repeat words when speaking.

Hearing impairments, including partial or total hearing loss, also interfere with communication. According to some experts, types of hearing loss include conducive, mixed, sensorineural, and central. Conducive hearing loss may be caused by problems in the middle and outer ear, while mixed refers to diseases in the inner, middle, and external ear. Sensorineural impairment is the result of damage to the nerves or the sensory hair cells within the inner ear, and central hearing loss generally results from nerve or brain damage.

Illness, disease, or accidents that damage the brain or ears appear to be among the causes of communication impairments. Communication problems may also be caused by genetic factors, such as autism, Down's syndrome, or other learning disabilities that are usually diagnosed in childhood. Other possible causes of communication impairment may include Alzheimer's disease, stroke, neurological disorders, or vocal cord injury in adults.

Treatment for communication disorders may include surgery in the case of vocal cord injury, or the implantation of a hearing aid in the case of conducive hearing loss. Speech therapy provides the most common treatment for language and speech issues. Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists, often work with children or rehabilitating adults in areas of voice, articulation, and fluency problems. Therapists may use techniques like articulation therapy, language intervention, and oral exercises to foster speech development and improve oral awareness while speaking, eating, and swallowing.

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