Speech & Language Difficulties



Speech and Oromotor Outcome in Adolescents Born Preterm:  Relationship to Motor Tract Ingegrity.
Gemma B. Northam, MSc, Frédérique Liégeois, PhD, Wui K. Chong, FRCR, Kate Baker, PhD, Jacques-Donald Tournier, PhD, John S. Wyatt, FRCPCH, Torsten Baldeweg, MD, and Angela Morgan, PhD.

“Difficulties in speech and oromotor control are common in adolescents born preterm, andadolescents with injury to the CST/CBT pathways in the left-hemisphere may be most at risk.”


Teenagers with speech and language problems would generally have been identified in their primary years, however in some instances the teen may develop good coping strategies and it may have gone unnoticed.

Speech and Language Problems 

The term speech disorder refers to difficulty with how you perceive and how speech sounds are produced.

Speech sound disorders may include:

  • articulation disorder: challenges saying individual sounds, such as a lisp
  • phonological disorder: challenges understanding which sounds go where in your language, eg. sometimes omitting or swapping sounds around, such as beges for veges, twain for train, do for dog, etc
  • dysarthria: a problem with the neuromuscular movements for speech like that seen in cerebral palsy, eg. where children may have less accuracy of speech and slower speech rate
  • childhood apraxia of speech: a problem with accurately and automatically sequencing sounds for speech, with very poor speech clarity or ability to be understood

Language disorders, by contrast, are problems with either understanding or expressing thoughts and ideas, such as having a restricted vocabulary or not being able to form accurate sentences.

Receptive language impairment: difficulty understanding what others are saying.

Expressive language impairment: difficulty expressing thoughts and ideas.

Mixed receptive-expressive language impairment: difficulty understanding and using spoken language.

Teenagers, particularly those who struggle with speech and language skills, may find it challenging to communicate with parents, other adults and teachers. The commencement of puberty, coupled with moodiness, hormones and sometimes impulsive behaviour can affect the way your teen behaves. Your teens desire to develop independence may limit their interactions with you and other adults and this may conceal the difficulties that they are experiencing.

Language difficulties can impact the teens ability to follow instructions, therefore making school more challenging. This can have long term affects on their learning, achievements and reaching their goals. Your teen may lack interest in school, and experience poor academic progress. These difficulties can have an impact on their emotional and social wellbeing and may cause behavioural problems. Often behavioural issues will come to the attention of the teachers before the language difficulties are detected.

There are a few things to pay attention to if you suspect your teenager of experiencing language difficulties, they include:

  • Difficulty with reading comprehension
  • Difficulty in finding the right word to use
  • Using shorter written and spoken sentences
  • Misspelling words
  • Grammatical errors
  • Difficulty predicting and inferring information
  • Difficulty putting ideas into written text
  • Limited vocabulary
  • Using words such as 'things’ ‘stuff’
  • Trouble identifying important points
  • Difficulty following conversations
  • Unable to understand humour and sarcasm


It is important to choose a suitable time and approach your teenager to have an honest conversation about their communication challenges. This may be a very sensitive topic and your concerns may not be received well at first. Solicit the help of teachers and perhaps other adults and seek advice from a speech therapist or paediatrician.

Reassure your teen that their language skills can continue to improve with practice, though they may need the help of outside services for support and therapy. 

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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].