Understanding the Four Major Speech Disorders: Causes, Treatments, and Early Intervention

Speech disorders can range from stuttering to apraxia and dysarthria and can be caused by various factors such as muscle weakness or hearing loss. Learn more about these four major types of speech disorders and how they can be treated.

Understanding the Four Major Speech Disorders: Causes, Treatments, and Early Intervention

Communication is a gift that many of us take for granted. But for those with speech disorders, expressing themselves can be a difficult and frustrating experience. Speech disorders can range from stuttering to apraxia and dysarthria, and can be caused by a variety of factors. In this article, we'll explore the four major speech disorders, their causes, and how they can be treated.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). People with ASD have difficulty with social interactions and interpreting verbal and non-verbal communication. Dyslexia is another common learning disability that makes it hard for people to read. Cerebral palsy is also a type of speech disorder. The root causes of speech disorders can vary greatly, but some of the most common include muscle weakness, brain injuries, degenerative diseases, autism, and hearing loss.

Early intervention is key to correcting the problem, as many famous actors and artists have stuttered throughout their lives.


. Stuttering is one of the most common speech disorders. It often begins in childhood and can last throughout a person's life.

While researchers haven't identified the exact cause of stuttering, they believe there may be a genetic component. External factors such as teasing or embarrassment can also contribute to anxiety, which in turn tightens the speech muscles. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that three million Americans stutter.


. Apraxia occurs when the neural pathway between the brain and a person's speech function (speech muscles) is lost or obscured.

The person knows what they want to say but their brain can't send the right messages to their speech muscles. Apraxia is often caused by stroke, dementia, brain tumors, or traumatic brain injuries.


. Dysarthria differs from apraxia in that it is caused by weak speech muscles due to brain damage. Symptoms include difficulty speaking or speaking inaccurately, slow speech, limited movements of the tongue, jaw or lips, abnormal rhythm and tone when speaking, changes in voice quality, difficulty articulating, and difficulty speaking.

Treatment for dysarthria focuses on managing symptoms through behavioral changes such as helping a person slow down when speaking, training breathing, and exercising the muscles involved in speech.


. Cluttering is a fluidity disorder characterized by a person's speech being too fast or too abrupt. It also involves excessive amounts of “good” words such as “hmm” or “like that” (speech disfluences), an excessive exclusion or collapse of syllables, or abnormal tensions or rhythms of syllables.

The first symptoms of this disorder appear in childhood. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) specialize in treating all types of speech disorders. They can ensure that cluttering is not confused with another type of disorder such as apraxia, aphasia, impaired expressive language development, or a speech impairment caused by hearing loss.

Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD)


Spasmodic dysphonia (SD) is a long-term chronic disorder that affects the voice. It is characterized by a spasm of the vocal cords when a person tries to speak and produces a voice that can be described as shaky, hoarse, moaning, tense or nervous. Many SLPs specialize in treating spasmodic dysphonia.

Asperger's Syndrome


Asperger's syndrome is an indication of how common this disorder is and how crucial SLPs are in making a proper diagnosis. It is characterized by difficulty with social interactions and communication. A team of professionals including pediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists are involved in diagnosing selective mutism.



Aphasia is a communication disorder caused by damage to the brain's language abilities. It affects only the speech and language center of the brain. SLPs play an important role in helping people with aphasia improve their communication skills. Speech disorders can be difficult to live with but there are treatments available to help people manage their symptoms.

Early intervention is key to correcting any type of speech disorder so it's important to seek help from an SLP if you or someone you know has any type of speech disorder.