Definitions of Child Language Disorders

Childhood Aphasia, Apraxia, Articulation/Phonological Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism, Central Auditory Processing Disorder, Cluttering, Cognitive — Communication Disorders, Dysarthria, Dyslexia, Dysphagia, Executive Function Disabilities, Feeding Disorders, Language Learning Disorder, Sensory Integration Disorder/Sensory Processing Disorder, Specific Language Impairment, Nonverbal Learning Disability, Stuttering/Fluency Disorder, Voice Disorders

Childhood Aphasia

A child’s partial or total loss of the ability to understand words and use of language due to a brain injury after the child has already developed some language skills. Although rare, children who have a stroke could have aphasia too.

Apraxia (or Childhood Apraxia of Speech — CAS)

Apraxia is a category of motor speech disorders. CAS is a disorder that involves problems with planning speech movements and coordinating the muscles to make speech sounds. In order for speech to be understood the timing and movements of the tongue, lips, jaw, and palate must be coordinated. CAS is a specific type of speech disorder that needs a specific type of treatment.

Articulation/Phonological Disorder

Difficulty producing speech sounds correctly. Phonological disorders are not a result of physical, structural problems or muscle weakness. Difficulty producing the correct sound is related to the mental representation of the sound. The cause of phonological disorders is typically unknown. Depending on the severity, listeners may have trouble understanding what the speaker says. While all young children make speech errors, specific speech sounds are acquired during specific developmental windows of time. A speech language pathologist can evaluate whether a child’s speech errors are part of normal development or if an articulation disorder may be present. A lisp is a specific type of articulation problem seen in people who replace the “s” or “z” sound with a “th.”

Asperger’s Syndrome

A disorder on the Autistic Spectrum. Generally considered “milder” or more “high-functioning” than classic autism. Children with Asperger’s develop language on time, or even early. The disorder is characterized by a lack of social skills, difficulty communicating, and limited interests. A young child may focus on learning all there is to know about something others may consider “odd” like air compressors or ceiling fans. They may also repeat lines from movies or books to communicate, or use a voice that sounds like a TV character. Asperger’s is often misdiagnosed, and finding knowledgeable professionals is key to getting appropriate treatment.


A developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. There is a “triad” of primary symptoms: (1) social interaction, (2) communication, and (3) repetitive behaviors and limited interests. It is common for children with autism to be overly sensitive or under sensitive to sensations like loud sounds, bright lights, or being tickled. Some children with autism also have difficulty with attention. Some may have strong temper tantrums or “meltdowns” as a result of overstimulation or frustration when they cannot communicate their wants and needs. The signs and symptoms of autism are highly individual. There is a saying in the autism community: “If you’ve seen one child with autism, you’ve seen one child with autism.” Autism is among the hardest disorders for parents to sort out on their own by reading books or gathering information. Consulting knowledgeable professionals is especially important in the accurate diagnosis and early treatment of autism.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD)

It is not a problem with hearing, but with the way the brain processes information that is heard. An individual with CAPD may have trouble recognizing the small differences in speech sounds that are connected in speech. It is best to consult an audiologist if you are concerned.


Cluttering is related to the rate and rhythm of speech. It is a rare type of fluency disorder. Speech may be fast and irregular with a large number of dysfluencies (unexpected pauses, breaks, or repetition of sounds) that are not considered stuttering. People who clutter may also use a large number of filler words like “um” and “err” in their speech. They may seem to have trouble finding the right words to say.

Cognitive — Communication Disorders

Most common in children who have had a traumatic brain injury. They may have difficulty with reasoning, planning, and problem solving.


A category of motor speech disorders involving muscle weakness. It is most commonly associated with children who have Cerbral Palsy, but it can occur with a variety of other childhood disorders and illnesses, or as a result of brain injury. Children with dysarthria may have trouble moving their tongue, lips, jaw, and palate to produce the correct speech sound. They may also have trouble timing their breathing with the movements necessary for speech. Some children with dysarthria have a different voice quality.


A language based learning disorder that is specific to reading. Children with dyslexia typically have a broader language learning disorder that includes difficulty with writing, spoken language, phonological awareness, and difficulty spelling.


Problems with sucking and swallowing. In children this is most commonly associated with infants born prematurely and children who have developmental disabilities. It could also occur through injury. Infants and children with dysphagia may receive feeding therapy, change their diet, or use an alternate form of feeding such as having a tube placed to avoid aspiration (food or liquid in the lungs) which can be life threatening.

Executive Function Disabilities or Executive Dysfunction

A term most often associated with children who have attentional or learning disabilities. It involves difficulty in initiating, planning, organizing, and prioritizing tasks. It also involves the ability to shift attention in response to what is occurring in the environment. Efficient executive functioning is not fully achieved until the frontal lobe of the brain is developed in adulthood.

Feeding Disorders

See “Dysphagia” above for swallowing disorders. An “aversive feeding” disorder is characterized by a sensory integration deficit. Children may avoid foods of certain tastes or textures. It is more extreme than your typical “picky eater.” Pediatricians monitor appropriate growth and weight gain and refer for feeding therapy if an aversive feeding disorder is present or if an infant is categorized as “failure to thrive (FTT).”

Language Learning Disorder

Difficulty communicating thoughts and feelings in spoken and/or written language. There may also be difficulties in decoding and reading words and in comprehension of written and spoken language. This can cause problems learning in school even though the child has average or above average intelligence. Dyslexia is a problem specific to the written word, while a language based learning disorder includes spoken language too.

Sensory Integration Disorder/Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

An inability to process and respond appropriately to information gathered through the senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, the position of the body in space, and the movement of the body. This inability to accurately perceive, process, and respond to information can negatively impact learning and the activities of daily living. SPD is typically diagnosed by Occupational Therapists. Children with SPDs may have other developmental and/or neurological disorders and may be treated by a team of therapists of different disciplines.

Specific Language Impairment (SLI)

A problem with language that is not related to another developmental disability or hearing impairment. Children with SLI have typical social skills and motor development. The most common language errors may be using the wrong verb tense (“we goed” instead of “we went”) or using the wrong pronoun (“that is hes” instead of “that is his”).

Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD or NVLD)

A developmental disorder with symptoms that overlap Asperger’s Syndrome. Children with NLD develop a large vocabulary early and are good at memorizing rote information like spelling. They may be identified early as being gifted even though they struggle with secondary symptoms like anxiety or social challenges. They may appear clumsy and have difficulty coordinating their bodies in athletic activities or they may have difficulty with handwriting. Since many of the deficits are most obvious in an academic situation this disorder may not be diagnosed until the child is in upper elementary school. It is often misdiagnosed so consulting a professional who is knowledgeable is an important factor in finding the right treatment.

Stuttering/Fluency Disorder

A person with difficulty in the rate and rhythm of speech. The most common signs are repeating sounds or syllables, long pauses or breaks in speech, and holding a sound longer than expected. Periods of normal non-fluency are not uncommon in preschool aged children. Seek advice from a Speech Language Pathologist if you are concerned.

Voice Disorders

Problems with the quality of the voice due to overuse such as yelling, or problems in the structures of the oral and nasal cavity such as cleft palate. In infants who were born prematurely, and placed on a ventilator, unavoidable injury to the vocal cords may cause a temporary or permanent voice disorder.

See Also:

Finding the Right Treatment

Understanding Research-Based Therapy

What Should I be Aware of?

Programs in the DFW Area