What causes difficulty speaking and what should I do about it?

Symptom Database

Difficulty speaking, also known as speech difficulties or speaking challenges, can be a frustrating and isolating experience. Communication problems can arise for various reasons, ranging from physical conditions to psychological factors. In this article, we will explore the common causes of difficulty speaking and provide valuable insights on what you can do to address this issue.

Physical Causes

1. Neurological Disorders: Conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy can affect the muscles and nerves involved in speech production. These disorders can lead to slurred speech, difficulty articulating words, or even complete loss of speech.

2. Structural Abnormalities: Some individuals may have physical abnormalities in their vocal cords, tongue, or mouth that impede proper speech production. Cleft palate, vocal cord paralysis, or tongue-tie are examples of such conditions.

3. Hearing Loss: Hearing impairment can significantly impact speech development, especially in children. When individuals cannot hear sounds properly, they may struggle to imitate and produce speech sounds accurately.

Psychological Causes

1. Anxiety and Stress: High levels of anxiety or chronic stress can interfere with speech fluency. People experiencing anxiety may stutter, have difficulty finding words, or speak rapidly and incoherently.

2. Psychological Trauma: Traumatic events can have a profound impact on speech. Individuals who have experienced trauma may develop speech difficulties as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other psychological conditions.

3. Developmental Disorders: Conditions like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or specific language impairment (SLI) can cause difficulties in speech and language development. These disorders affect the ability to understand and use language effectively.

What Should You Do?

1. Consult a Healthcare Professional

If you or a loved one is experiencing difficulty speaking, it is crucial to seek professional help. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) specializes in diagnosing and treating communication disorders. They can assess your specific challenges and develop a personalized treatment plan.

2. Practice Speech Exercises

Speech exercises recommended by an SLP can help improve muscle control and coordination. These exercises may involve tongue twisters, breathing techniques, or specific mouth movements to strengthen the muscles involved in speech production.

3. Use Assistive Devices

For individuals with severe speech difficulties, assistive devices can be invaluable. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, such as speech-generating devices or communication boards, can help individuals express themselves when verbal communication is challenging.

4. Seek Psychological Support

If your difficulty speaking is related to anxiety, stress, or trauma, it may be beneficial to seek therapy or counseling. Mental health professionals can help you address the underlying psychological factors contributing to your speech difficulties.

5. Join Support Groups

Connecting with others who share similar challenges can provide emotional support and practical advice. Support groups for individuals with speech difficulties can offer a safe space to share experiences, learn coping strategies, and build confidence in communication.

6. Practice Patience and Persistence

Overcoming speech difficulties takes time and effort. It is essential to be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. Remember that progress may be gradual, but with consistent practice and support, improvement is possible.


Difficulty speaking can stem from various physical and psychological causes. Whether it is a result of neurological disorders, structural abnormalities, anxiety, or developmental disorders, seeking professional help is crucial. Speech-language pathologists, along with other healthcare professionals, can provide the necessary guidance and support to address speech difficulties effectively. By following their recommendations, practicing speech exercises, and utilizing assistive devices, individuals can improve their communication skills and regain confidence in expressing themselves.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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