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Speech Impairments Factsheet (for Schools)

What Teachers Should Know

Speech impairments can make it hard to communicate. Someone with a speech impairment may have trouble with:

  • articulation (production of speech sounds)
  • voice (pitch, resonance, or loudness)
  • fluency (flow of speech)

Some kids and teens with speech impairments have oral–motor problems. This means there's inefficient communication in the areas of the brain responsible for speech production. Speech impairments also can be:

  • part of a more general developmental delay
  • related to medical conditions, such as a hearing impairment, weak muscles around the mouth, cleft lip or palate, vocal nodules or hoarseness, autism, or a breathing or swallowing disorder

Stuttering, or stammering is a problem that interferes with fluent speech.

Lisping is an articulation disorder. It refers to a specific substitution involving the letters "s" and "z." A person who lisps replaces those sounds with "th."

Students with speech impairments may:

  • feel nervous, embarrassed, and frustrated when they're talking in class
  • have to miss class time to attend speech therapy programs, in or out of school
  • use relaxation techniques to help them speak more clearly
  • need more time to answer oral questions in class or for tests
  • need seating accommodations, such as sitting in a front row, if their speech problems are related to a hearing impairment
  • use assistive technology to better communicate in class

Bullies may target students with speech impairments.

What Teachers Can Do

Speech impairments can isolate students from their classmates. So it's essential that teachers give students help and support. Be patient when students with speech impairments are speaking. Be a role model to your other students about the importance of not interrupting and letting people finish their own sentences.

Ask questions in a way that lets the student give a brief answer, or consider substituting written work for oral presentations.

Consult with your student's speech therapist, other special educators, or parents to learn about specific needs. You can also talk privately with the student to find out what's helpful and what's not.

Date reviewed: September 2019