Speech impairments include difficulties with articulation, voice strength, or the complete inability to produce speech. Stuttering, stammering, disfluency, hoarseness, breathiness, or breaks in volume or pitch are considered impairments as well. Speech impairments can be caused by cleft lip or palate, or by cerebral palsy, autism, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities or have no known cause. This article will give you some teaching strategies for students with communication disorders.
Students with speech impairments may be difficult to understand and experience problems expressing ideas. These students may be reluctant to answer questions in class, and in particular, give presentations individually or in a group. Educators must be patient and encourage the student to participate in classroom activities, giving her adequate time to speak. Teachers should speak to the student as they would any other student. Do not interrupt or try to complete her thoughts. Ask her to repeat her message when necessary; do not feign understanding.
Specific Strategies for Teachers
Educators should create an environment of acceptance and understanding in the classroom, and encourage peers to accept the student with speech impairment. Practice and maintain easy and effective communication skills by modeling good listening skills and by facilitating participation of all students in classroom discussions and activities. If a student requires a sign language interpreter or the use of augmentative communication, provide adequate space and time to accommodate these forms of communication.
Some students with severe communication disorders will have deficits with the analytical skills required to read and write. Individual instruction may be necessary to remediate these deficits, but should be provided discreetly to avoid embarrassment and possible resistance. Teachers should constantly model the correct production of sound. Maintain eye contact with the student, then tell her to watch the movements of your mouth when providing direct instruction. Ask her to copy these movements when she produces the sounds.
When introducing new vocabulary, help a student with speech impairment practice difficult words. Dividing words into syllables and pronouncing each syllable will improve speech, reading and writing. Using many different listening activities will also aid the student in comprehending and determining her own production of sounds. Ask her if she hears the individual sounds in words by having her answer “yes" or “no."
More specific teaching strategies for students with communication disorders include:
- Allowing more time for a student to complete activities, assignments and tests.
- Having a student sit near you to easily meet her learning needs.
- Discussing possible areas of difficulty and working with the student to implement accommodations.
- Always asking before providing assistance, and using positive reinforcement when the student completes an activity independently.
- Using peer assistance when appropriate.
- Modifying activities or exercises so assignments can be completed by the student, but providing the same or similar academic objectives.
- Creating tests that are appropriate for the student with speech impairment (for example, written instead of oral or vice versa.)
- Providing scribes for test taking if a student needs assistance.
- Making sure the student understands test instructions completely and providing additional assistance if needed.
Remember, patience is extremely necessary in teaching students with speech impairments. Accepting and accommodating an individual’s speech will benefit educators, classmates, and of course, the student herself by sharpening listening skills and promoting learning and understanding. After all, everyone’s voice deserves to be heard.