Language disorder is not the end of communication

Language disorders challenge many children in the United States, the estimates state approximately 10-20% of all children will receive speech therapy services at some point in their development due to a variety of issues.  As demonstrated in this story, the effects of any kind of communication disorder affect not just the child, but the entire family and community unit.  The ability to communicate is foundational to life interactions and development.  We can easily see the distress in parents when their child suffers a communication disorder, in whatever variety.

There are many varieties of communication disorders.  The little girl at the start of the story may well have suffered from aphonia, or the lack of ability to make sound (phonation).  Once released, she can begin to use her voice to form sounds, to coordinate sounds into words, and words into conversations.  Aphonia can have a variety of causes, from vocal cord paralysis, breath support incoordination, and even psychological causes.  With training and support, voice can usually be restored or attained, so then the child could develop spoken language.

The boy in the story apparently had a language disorder of some kind and then had a stroke.  In many cases, this results in aphasia which can come in several forms, depending upon the location of the damage in the brain from the stroke.  It is possible that he may know what he wants to say but is unable to express it (expressive aphasia) or that he may not understand what is said to him (receptive aphasia), or that he even has muscle paralysis that affects his ability to move the muscles to form words (apraxia) or even to swallow (dysphagia).

Regardless, language disorders in any form impair overall communication, both outgoing and incoming.  We take for granted how much we communicate and how crucial it is to our daily functioning.  Any impairment can have far-reaching consequences, affecting not only the specific language function, but also learning, and interpersonal relationships.  Clearly, parents are going to seek out any assistance available for their child, though at times they may not know where to turn.  In this story, a miracle cure happens, instantaneously via Anna’s “gift”.  In truth, improvements and cures happen through professional help, knowledge and hard work on the part of a therapist, the parents and the child.  Often, families seem to think there is a magic cure and there will be instantaneous improvement, but in general, improvement in a language skill takes exercises, precise practice and time.  Thankfully, children are willing to consider most tasks as play when they are presented creatively and in a fun manner.  Breathing exercises to address aphonia can involve blowing a cotton ball across a table, blowing a horn, or even using a straw.  Increasing the use of voice in the case of aphonia can be addressed through humming, kazoo playing, or even vocalizing with music.  Use of physical manipulation of the respiratory system to cue for onset of respiratory support for vocalizing can be very helpful in these cases as well.

Ultimately, any language disorder affects the child, the family and the community, in whatever form it might present itself.

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