Communication Disorders in Children With Disabilities

Speech, language, and hearing disorders often go undetected and untreated.

By Krista Healy, SLP; Sophie Lehar, SLP; Kseniya Naturina Fenner, SLP

With 11% of children ages 3–6 having a speech, language, voice, or swallowing disorder - and almost 15% of school-age children experiencing some degree of hearing loss - communication disorders are among the most common disabilities in children nationwide. During May, which is Better Hearing and Speech Month, we encourage families to learn the early signs and seek an assessment if they have concerns.

Communication disorders are treatable, yet all too often, we find parents are waiting to bring their child in for an evaluation. Timely intervention is important, as untreated speech/language and hearing disorders can lead to problems with reading and writing, academic success, social interactions and behavioral problems. These disorders are highly treatable and, in some cases, can be reversed or even prevented. If you have any concern, don’t wait. Trust your instincts and get it checked out.

Hearing loss is evaluated and treated by audiologists. Speech and language disorders are evaluated and treated by speech-language pathologists. Warning signs of these disorders are listed below.

Language Disorders

  • Does not smile or interact with others (birth and older)
  • Does not babble (4 - 7 months)
  • Makes only a few sounds or gestures, like pointing (7 - 12 months)
  • Does not understand what others say (7 months - 2 years)
  • Says only a few words (12 - 18 months)
  • Words are not easily understood (18 months - 2 years)
  • Does not put words together to make sentences (1.5 - 3 years)
  • Has trouble playing and talking with other children (2 - 3 years)
  • Has trouble with early reading and writing skills (2.5 - 3 years)

Speech Sound Disorders

  • Says p, b, m, h, and w incorrectly in words (1 - 2 years)
  • Says k, g, f, t, d, and n incorrectly in words (2 - 3 years)
  • Produces speech that is unclear, even to familiar people (2 - 3 years)


  • Repeats first sounds of words—“b-b-b-ball” for “ball”
  • Speech breaks while trying to say a word—“-----boy” for “boy”
  • Stretches sounds out—“ffffff-farm” for “farm”
  • Shows frustration when trying to speak

Voice Disorders

  • Uses a hoarse or breathy voice
  • Uses a nasal-sounding voice

Hearing Loss

  • Shows a lack of attention to sounds (birth - 1 year)
  • Does not respond when you call their name (7 months - 1 year)
  • Does not follow simple directions (1 - 2 years)
  • Shows delays in speech and language development (birth - 3 years)
  • Pulls or scratches at their ears
  • Has difficulty achieving academically, especially in reading and math
  • Is socially isolated and unhappy at school
  • Has persistent ear discomfort after exposure to loud noise (regular and constant listening to electronics at high volumes)

Families can learn more about these signs, get tips for helping their child, and find a searchable database of the professionals who treat communication disorders here.

At CHA we have speech-language pathologists offering support for a wide variety of communication disorders. Please contact the CHA Rehabilitation Department at 617-591-4600 with questions.


Cambridge Health Alliance

Contributed By: Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health care system committed to serving all members of our communities. We have expertise in primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and caring for diverse and complex populations. CHA patients receive high quality care in convenient neighborhood locations, and have seamless access to advanced care through CHA’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville Everett and Boston’s Metro North, CHA is working hard to offer the integrated services its communities need now, and in the future.