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What is a Communication Disorder?

According to guidelines from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), a communication disorder is an impairment in the ability to receive, send, process, and comprehend concepts or verbal, nonverbal and graphic symbol systems.  A communication disorder may be evident in the processes of hearing, language and/or speech. 



Speech Disorder is an impairment of the articulation of speech sound, fluency or voice.


  • An articulation disorder is the atypical production of speech sounds characterized by substitutions, omissions, additions, or distortions that may interfere with intelligibility.
  • A fluency disorder is an interruption in the flow of speaking characterized by atypical rate, rhythm, and repetitions in sounds, syllables, words, and phrases.  This may be accompanied by excessive tension, struggle behavior, and secondary mannerisms.
  • A voice disorder is characterized by the abnormal production and/ or absences of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, and/or duration, which is inappropriate for an individual's age or gender.


Language Disorder is impaired comprehension and/ or use of spoken, written, and/ or other symbol systems.  The disorder may involve: 


  • The form of language (phonologic, morphologic, and syntactic systems)
  • The content of language (semantic system)
  • The function of language (pragmatics-the system that combines the above language components in functional and socially appropriate communication.)



American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1993). Definitions of communication disorders and variations [Relevant Paper]. Available from