Speaking, hearing, and comprehending is how most of us communicate with the outside world, and being unable to do so — or even to do so with difficulty — can be a significant impediment to dealing with others. In particular, communications disorders can be a major challenge to school-age children, who might struggle to reach their full potential or even get the most out of their schooling.
But communications disorders are more common than you might think — nearly 1 in 12 children have struggled with a communication disorder of some kind, with many of them struggling most between the ages of 3 and 6. Fortunately, more than half of children dealing with a communication disorder have received some sort of intervention or treatment, including drug treatments. But just how effective are those drug treatments?
A communication disorder is any sort of difficulty with language, speech, and/or communication. This might reveal itself in terms of difficulty with articulating words, struggling with written language, or understanding both verbal and non-verbal communication. The severity of these symptoms can range from mild to severe — anything from a stutter or difficulty with come words, up to a subject being completely unable to use speech or language to communicate with others.
The most common types of communication disorders are:
- Language disorders, in which people struggle with getting others to understand what they mean when they communicate, and / have difficulty understanding words or using them correctly. This disorder can lead to a limited vocabulary and make it difficult to form meaningful sentences and use proper grammar.
- Speech-sound disorders, in which a person has a difficulty making certain kinds of sounds — which may result in them being distorted, changed, or left out entirely (as the subject omits the difficult sound). This is usually noticed during speech development in children.
- Childhood-Onset Fluency Disorder, in which sounds are repeated or prolonged when employing speech, or hesitation before making certain speech sounds. This includes stuttering, which is one of the more common manifestations of this disorder.
- Social Communication Disorder (SCD) has nothing to do with word articulation or meaning, but is a broader term applying to those who have difficulty communicating despite having strong vocabulary and grammar skills. The symptoms are often similar to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) but one is not necessarily tied to the other.
Communication disorders can be caused by any number of other conditions, such as brain injury, cerebral palsy, developmental disorders, drug abuse, emotional or learning disorders, vocal cord injuries, and others.
One of the more common treatments for communication disorders is working with a speech-language pathologist. These are professionals who have a degree in speech-language pathology and specialize in working with those suffering from these kinds of afflictions. A speech-language pathologist will evaluate an individual, determine if a disorder exists, and will put together a treatment plan to alleviate or end the disorder.
A patient might also work with a psychologist to help overcome fear, anxiety, inhibited social skills, and/or low self-esteem, which can be at the heart of some communication disorders. There are also some technological tools and apps that have made progress easier and more accessible for those dealing with language disorders.
Speech, hearing, and language disorders aren’t generally treated with drugs unless there is another condition connected to the disorder, such as ADHD or neurological damage. If the patient is experiencing anxiety, seizures, or depression, medication can be prescribed to address those symptoms.
For example, a child who is exhibiting rapid or rambling speech who is diagnosed with ADHD might be treated with medication like Ritalin or Methylin to help reduce hyperactivity, which will, in turn, slow down their speech and alleviate rambling or difficult-to-comprehend speech.
Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed by a psychologist in patients whose communication disorders are creating problems with depression and anxiety. Reducing those symptoms can be effective in helping the patient better manage their communication disorder.
Another instance in which medication or medical attention is used to address a communication disorder is in the case of brain tumors affecting speech and language. In this case, the patient might be treated with chemotherapy or radiation to reduce the size of the tumor, thereby reducing the effects of the communication disorder and speeding up recovery time.
Although there is still a lingering stigma about using medications to treat conditions like ADHD, they can be an effective component of treating problems associated with communication disorders. However, they are usually most effective when coupled with other treatment methods, such as working with a licensed speech-language pathologist or psychologist and using non-drug-related methods to help address their difficulties.