Also known as: Dysphasia

Aphasia is a complex condition that can affect an individual’s speech, understanding, reading or writing. There are an estimated 250,000 people in the UK who have aphasia. It can affect people of any age and occurs in men and women. People with aphasia may have difficulty expressing their thoughts and understanding what is being said to them through language.

In this article

What are the symptoms of aphasia?

Characteristics of childhood aphasia can include problems with repeating heard sounds or words, poor attention, hyperactivity, poor eye contact, and difficulty understanding simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.

Aphasia can affect each person differently, from very mild to severe symptoms and communication difficulties, which can change day-to-day or even hour-to-hour. Symptoms are more prominent when people are tired, unwell or under pressure.

Aphasia may make it difficult for someone to:

  • talk
  • listen
  • understand writing
  • read
  • use numbers.

The term aphasia covers a wide range of language impairments. The three most commonly recognised types are:

  • Broca’s aphasia (referred to as ‘non-fluent aphasia’) – people can understand most speech, but may not be able to speak at a normal pace. Speech can be limited to less than four words at a time. Accessing words is impaired and formation of speech sounds and sentences is difficult. Writing can also be impaired
  • Wernicke’s aphasia (referred to as ‘fluent aphasia’) – a person may produce spoken sentences that do not flow with mispronounced or irrelevant or unrecognisable words. When severe speech that sounds like jargon, and they may have difficulty understanding spoken words. Reading and writing are often severely impaired. They may be unaware that they are producing jargon.
  • Anomic aphasia (or Anomia) – a relatively less severe form of aphasia. People are often quite ‘fluent’ but unable to find the words for things they wish to speak about. As a result, speech often sounds empty, and they use vague descriptions or indirectly describe meanings of words. Other aspects of communication are usually spared.

What are the causes of aphasia?

Aphasia results from damage to the parts of the brain that control language. Damage can be caused by stroke, head injury, a brain tumour, infections (such as encephalitis), surgery to the brain and progressive neurological conditions.

Childhood aphasia is commonly developmental or congenital (present at birth). In these cases, children are born with a problem that arises during language development. The term developmental aphasia is used when no specific brain dysfunction can be found.

Childhood aphasia may also be acquired. This happens when a child who is developing language normally suffers a head trauma or infection that disrupts their development. One form of acquired childhood aphasia is called Landau-Kleffner syndrome.

How is aphasia diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on impaired language development and related aspects of cognition and behaviour.

Speech and reading can often be unaffected, but difficulty finding words is obvious in writing. Diagnosis of the condition will normally be carried out through a speech and language assessment. Medical examination can help determine the cause of the aphasia and assessment by a speech and language therapist can provide a basis for the best treatment.

How is aphasia treated?

Speech and language therapy is the most common treatment offered to adults and children with aphasia, although if there is an underlying cause this will also be treated accordingly.

Aphasia can result in significant psychological and social effects for aphasic people and for their families, and they may need significant emotional and community support.

Inheritance patterns and prenatal diagnosis

Inheritance patterns

Prenatal diagnosis

Is there support for people affected by aphasia and their families?

Information, support and advice for children with aphasia is available from Afasic (see entry Speech and Language Impairment).

If your child is affected by a medical condition or disability, we can help. Call our freephone helpline on 0808 808 3555 to get information, support and advice. We also offer emotional support for parents via our Listening Ear service.

We have a range of parent guides on aspects of caring for a disabled child in our resource library. You may also find our Early Years Support useful, which contains links to parent carer workshops and help for families going through the diagnosis process.

We’ve listed some support groups below and you can also meet other parents online in our closed Facebook group.


Last updated March 2019 by Professor Chris Code, Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Psychology, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter UK.

Although great care has been taken in the compilation and preparation of all entries to ensure accuracy, we cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions. Any medical information is provided is for education/information purposes and is not designed to replace medical advice by a qualified medical professional.

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