ABSTRACT: The communication model known as The Communication Chain can helps us classify communication disabilities according to the level at which a disruption occurs: linguistic, physiological or acoustic.
Figure 1. The Communication Chain (click for an enlarged image)
Considering the complexity of the process of human communication, it is not surprising that a sizeable number of people present with some form of communication difficulty. It is estimated that around 2.3 million people in the United Kingdom have a communication disorder. Of these, approximately 800,000 have a severe disorder and 1.5 million have a moderate disorder.
We can usefully examine communication difficulties in relation to the communication model known as The Communication Chain (Figure 1).
Disruptions at the Linguistic Level (Agent)
Expressive language difficulties may occur, for example, in persons with learning disabilities and persons who have suffered a stroke or head injury.
A common communication disorder at this level is aphasia:
Disruptions at the Physiological Level (Agent)
A typical example of this would be a person who has suffered some form of neurological damage, perhaps as a result of a stroke or a road traffic accident, which prevents the nerves from the cortex of the brain passing the electrical signals properly. In severe cases there may be paralysis of some parts of the vocal apparatus.
This may also be true of a person who has dysarthria. However, if you were to observe the person with dyspraxia whilst they were eating you would likely observe them licking their lips. In other words, when they are carrying out actions unconsciously they are able to perform the required movements accurately and with ease. The person with dysarthria, in contrast, would still not be able to lick their lips when eating, owing to neurological impairment that prevents the muscles of the vocal apparatus functioning properly.
Dyspraxic speech is characterised by sequencing difficulties:
- difficulty alternating between single sounds when building words, e.g. teapot may become teatop
- difficulty producing long polysyllabic words such as disinterested and hippopotamus
- difficulty sequencing words within utterances, e.g. words said on their own sound fairly accurate but when combined with other words in a long utterance the clarity breaks down
In an effort to compensate for an inability to monitor production, persons with hearing impairment may exaggerate their articulation of consonants and vowels, and be more premeditated in their attempts to form speech sounds. The resulting speech can, therefore, appear slow, deliberate and laborious.
Typically, as well as articulation being affected, the voice is also affected. The hearing impaired person will have more difficulty monitoring the intonation contours of his or her speech and the pitch may sound dull and monotonous.
Disruptions at the Acoustic Level
One of the most obvious examples in western culture is the attempt to hold a conversation in a noisy night club. You may be less than one metre away from your conversational partner but, owing to the excessive volume of the music, your utterances may be drowned out: you can neither speak loudly enough to be heard nor hear the relatively quieter speech of the other person.
A less obvious example of disruption at the acoustic level would be attempting to communicate under water: scuba divers typically use a gestural system to compensate.
Disruptions at the Physiological Level (Recipient)
Disruptions at the Linguistic Level (Recipient)
Again, persons with learning disabilities and those who have suffered strokes and head injury may also present with a receptive language difficulty. Indeed, comprehension difficulties are a common feature of aphasia. Aphasia is not only a disruption of the ability to use symbols expressively, it also affects the person’s ability to comprehend symbols (written words/numbers and spoken words/numbers).
- an expressive language difficulty
- a receptive language disorder
This illustrates an important point about communication disorders, i.e. people can have difficulties at one or more than one level in The Communication Chain.
It is not uncommon, for example, for a person who has suffered a stroke to exhibit difficulties with comprehension (linguistic level as an agent), slurred dysarthric speech (physiological level as an agent) and understanding (linguistic level as a recipient) all at the same time.
Similarly, in our example of shouting at a noisy night club (discussed as an example of a disruption at the acoustic level), if you continued shouting for some time in an attempt to overcome this environmental interference you might well go home with a sore throat and hoarse voice. This is an example of how a communication disorder may be created at one level as a result of a disruption at another level. In this case, the hoarse voice is created at the agent’s physiological level as a result of a disruption at the acoustic level. Indeed, if you continued to visit night clubs and continued shouting over an extended period of time, you may well develop vocal nodules.
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