One of the issues parents and others who have a child or loved one being treated by Vic Park speech therapists sometimes have is understanding exactly what to call the disorder in question. They are unsure whether to call it a speech impediment, a language problem, a learning difficulty, or whatever.
This is understandable given that the terms are often interchanged…sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. What adds to the mix of confusion is when a voice disorder is a problem that is being treated. Some people think of voice and speech as the same thing, but they most certainly are not. So, to try to remove any confusion, here is what you should know about voice disorders in children and their treatment by speech pathologists.
What Is A Voice Disorder?
Whilst speech and language disorders relate to the words and vocabulary that a child might use, a voice disorder is when a child is misusing the voice used to create that speech and language. When a child has a voice disorder it can affect how loud they speak, the pitch of their voice and the quality of speech when they are talking.
A simple analogy to illustrate the difference between a speech and a voice disorder is to think about the speakers on your television. Analogous of a speech disorder would be that the quality of the sound on the TV is fine, but the words that you hear being broadcast do not make sense or are mispronounced. A voice disorder would be the equivalent of the speaker on TV creating distorted sounds or being too loud or too quiet, regardless of the TV show being watched.
Causes Of Voice Disorders
Voice disorders can be split into two distinct types. The first is organic voice disorders which result from neurological or structure problems which alter the child’s voice. The other is functional voice disorders which stem from the child using their voice in ways that are not usual.
Often, a voice disorder will be the result of a child shouting or screaming excessively, talking extremely loudly, or using their voice more loudly and more often than normal during activities such as playing games or sports.
Note, that not all voice disorders relate to the voice being used too loudly. The disorder can occur when a child uses their voice too quietly and thus others have difficulty hearing what they say. This quietness can result from a child being extremely shy. Some childhood medical conditions can also result in some voice disorders, and children more prone to voice disorders include those who suffer from ADHD.
Some of the common voice disorder symptoms include:
- A voice that is either very quiet or very loud
- Hoarse or harsh vocals
- Voices with a pitch much lower or higher than normal for the child’s age
- Hyponasal voice i.e. Child sounds like their nose is constantly blocked
- Frequently clearing throat or coughing
- Excessive sound of air being breathed out the nose
- Loss of voice completely
How Speech Pathologists Can Treat Childhood Voice Disorders
There are several treatments that a speech pathologist might consider for a child with a voice disorder. Many of these require the child’s parents, siblings, and teachers to play a role in helping them.
- The child should not be exposed to irritants including aerosols and cigarette smoke.
- The child should be encouraged to take sips of water throughout the day.
- The child should be discouraged from shouting across the room but instead go and speak face to face with others.
- Encourage the child to rest their voice such as having quiet time when reading or watching TV.
- Playing games that encourage silence.
- Teaching the child what times are appropriate for certain voice volumes e.g. Not shouting when talking to family.
- Discuss with the child different ways they can express themselves without shouting.
- Use post-it notes around their home to remind them what voice behaviours are appropriate.