In your future career as a speech pathologist, there are many common speech disorders that you will encounter, ranging in severity and complexity. Stuttering, delayed language, lisps, aphashia, dysphasia…all these are good to know as you will be expected to treat patients suffering through these frustrating disorders.
But the brain is a complex organ, capable of a myriad forms of order and disorder. There have been many documented rare brain disorders, and many of them affect a person’s speech. Many of these are the result of a stroke or other brain injury, alcohol and drug abuse, or just the inevitable descent into old age. Some of these are the result of disorders that affect other motor or sensory capabilities, not just speech. While you may not ever have to treat someone who has one of these disorders, it’s good to remember just how powerful the brain can be from detaching itself from the language center.
Aphasia is a general term that relates to loss of language, whether through speaking, listening, reading or writing. Here are a few of the forms of speech aphasia.
- Broca’s Aphasia – This is generally caused by damage to a part of the left frontal lobe, perhaps by a stroke. While words may be said they can be slurred and poorly articulated. Motor skills are also lost, but auditory comprehension is not as poorly affected. Speech therapy can greatly reduce the severity of Broca’s Aphasia.
- Wernicke’s Aphasia – Damage to the posterior superior of the frontal lobe can cause Wernicke’s Aphasia. While this patient may be able to gesture freely and appear to speak normally, they will use wrong words without realizing it and their sentences are often devoid of meaning. Like Broca’s Aphasia, speech therapy can reduce the severity of Wernicke’s Aphasia.
- Primary Progressive Aphasia – PPA is generally caused by a form of the brain disease frontotemporal degeneration or Alzheimer’s. Patients with PPA can have trouble arriving at the words they want, and find that they have a “quota” of words that they can use each day. Eventually, patients will lost the ability to speak altogether. This interview with an individual with PPA describes the frustration felt at slowly losing the ability to talk.
- Jargonapashia – This type of aphasia makes a patient’s speech entirely incomprehensible, despite their use of actual words. Generally, a patient will form neologisms or related words to what they are actually trying to say, and thinking they are using them correctly. A patient with this disorder may also repeat habitual cliches or pleasantries to cover up the fact that they aren’t saying anything meaningful.
- Jacobson Syndrome – This extremely rare disorder affects 1 in 100,000 newborns. It is a chromosomal disorder that results from the loss of genetic material. Individuals experience delayed speech development, as well as cognitive impairment, learning disabilities, and behavioral issues.
- Childhood Apraxia of Speech – While Apraxia may be more common in adults, it’s quite rare for children. Sadly, children with this condition can be seen as “just being shy” or introverted, when there’s actually some sort of neurological miscues that make the child not able to speak at all. CAS is possibly genetically linked and it can be cured through speech therapy.
- Dysprosody – Also known as foreign accent syndrome, this is the only one on this list that seems to silly to be real. But it has been documented again and again. The condition is generally caused by a stroke, brain tumor, head injury, or other neurological damage. Dysprosody can be treated with speech therapy, but often fades on its own. It is considered the rarest speech disorder, and generally less harmful physically and socially than many of the others on this list.
- Spasmodic Dysphonia – This rare and mysterious disease shuts down the brains speech center entirely. Patients have been known to regain parts of speech through breathing exercises or changing the pitch of their voice; surgery is an option in the most extreme cases. One of the most well known cases was when Dilbert creator Scott Adams was able to recover his voice.
While this certainly doesn’t cover all of the rare or unusual types of brain disorders, this will certainly give you something to think about when deciding your degree program. Speech disorders can affect a variety of people at every age. Keep in mind your goals of what you want to accomplish when looking for schools to pursue your speech pathology degree. You never know who you’ll be treating one day.