Speech and hearing disorders come in all shapes, sizes and degrees of severity, the specialists will tell you.

But, says James B. Lingwall, director of professional affairs for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, "just because you have a mild stuttering problem, doesn't mean that the impact in the individual is mild. Nor is there a necessary correlation between observed objective severity and the handicapping influence it may have on individuals.

"Sometimes relatively severe speech disorders sometimes don't seem to stop people. We see them in show business, in politics. For instance, [NBC News anchor] Tom Brokaw doesn't have an 'L' at all."

Speech and language pathologists may help find a lost "L," says Lingwall, and can be instrumental in helping developmentally delayed children or aphasic or otherwise communicatively impaired adults, but they may also:

*Help transsexuals learn the inflections of the other sex.

*Teach executives or government workers to communicate more effectively.

*Help eliminate foreign or regional accents.

*Help conquer stuttering and stammering.

With their colleagues the audiologists, primarily concerned with hearing, speech and language pathologists may be found in hospital shock-trauma units -- there are half a dozen on the staff of the Baltimore shock-trauma center, for example -- in rehabilitation hospitals, nursing homes, schools, research laboratories and in private practice.

In 38 states, including Maryland and Virginia, but not the District, audiologists and speech-language pathologists must be licensed. To be certified by ASHA, the scientific and professional association, the professionals must have completed at least a master's degree at an accredited university, spent a year as a professional intern, and must pass an examination administered by ASHA.