Understanding Speech Sound Disorders
Kids Place West Speech Language Pathologists
Speech sound disorders are what the pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist is most well-known for treating. There is the classic case of a child who says “wabbit” instead of rabbit,” or the child who lisps. But what exactly are speech sound disorders? Let’s talk about the basics of speech sound disorders, how we recognize them, and how you can improve speech at home.
Anyone who has been around children knows that they make plenty of normal, expected errors in their speech. However, there are age ranges during which we expect different sounds to develop. The table below shows a basic progression of the “Early 8, Middle 8, and Late 8” sounds (although this can vary from child to child).
|Speech Sound Development
* Table from Lannon Twomey, MS, CCC-SLP “Speech Sound Development”
|Early 8 Sounds
Develop between 1-3 years
Consistent production expected by age 3
|/m/ as in “mama”
/b/ as in “baby”
“y” as in “you”
/n/ as in “no”
/w/ as in “we”
/d/ as in “daddy”
/p/ as in “pop”
/h/ as in “hi”
|Middle 8 Sounds
Develop between 3-6 ½ years
Consistent production expected by age 5 ½
|/t/ as in “two”
“ng” as in “running”
/k/ as in “cup”
/g/ as in “go
/f/ as in “fish”
/v/ as in “van”
“ch” as in “chew”
“j” as in “jump”
Late 8 Sounds
|“sh” as in “sheep”
/s/ as in “see”
“th” as in “think”
/r/ as in “red”
/z/ as in “zoo”
/l/ as in “like”
“zh” as in “measure
Articulation disorders occur when a child has difficulty physically producing one of these sounds at the expected age. For example, a 4-year-old has difficulty with sounds that require an alveolar placement (that is, placing the tongue tip behind the top teeth) and cannot produce /n/, /t/, or /d/; they may say “og” instead of “dog.”
Phonological disorders are a bit more complicated. These involve a child’s difficulty understanding the speech “rules” of a language. The child may be able to produce sounds correctly in some words, but not others. For example, they clearly pronounce the /k/ sound in “black” but the /k/ in “cat” is pronounced “tat.” In fact, “kite,” “key,” and “king” are pronounced “tite,” “tey,” and “ting,” all despite the child’s ability to produce /k/ in “black.” Or perhaps a child simplifies words with multiple syllables: “elephant” becomes “ephant,” “butterfly” becomes “buffly.” Maybe a child leaves off the final sound in many words: “juice” becomes “joo,” “red” becomes “reh.” When a child has a phonological disorder, they tend to have patterns of errors in which they mispronounce entire groups of sounds.
These disorders can be due to a variety of causes, although the cause is not always clear. Sometimes the cause is physical, such as when a child is born with cleft lip and/or palate. Sometimes a child has difficulty organizing and putting together speech sounds in their brain. Often speech sound disorders are made worse by a child speaking too quickly, or too quietly, or becoming frustrated at not being understood. In certain cases, children will have more errors the longer they talk, or the longer their sentences are.
If your child has been diagnosed with a speech sound disorder, do not feel like you have to constantly correct them. This can be exhausting for both you and your child. Here are things you can do to help your child at home:
Emphasize target sounds in your own speech.
Expose your child to good models by emphasizing target sounds in your speech. Children learn from what they hear, and this emphasis, or “auditory highlighting,” will ensure that they have exposure to the correct form of a sound or word.
Recast what they say.
When a child misarticulates sounds and words in their own speech, you can repeat, or “recast,” what they said in the correct form. For example, if a child says, “I taw a tat,” you can respond, “Oh, you saw a cat?”
Provide positive experiences with communication.
Children, especially young children, rarely choose to speak incorrectly on purpose—and they certainly don’t choose to speak incorrectly all of the time! It is important to remember that they want to be understood, and to encourage them with positive reinforcement.
References and Resources:
Hamaguchi, Patricia McAleer. (2001). “Phonological Disorders.” Childhood Speech Language, and Listening Problems. pp. 68-70.
Twomey, Lannon. “Speech Sound Development.” (2007). Retrieved Sept. 10, 2012 from http://www.twomeyspeechtherapy.com/lib/pdf/Speech-Sound-Development.pdf
“What Are Phonological Disorders? Can They Be Corrected?” Super Duper Handy Handouts (2012). Super Duper Publications. Retrieved Sept. 10, 2016 from https://www.superduperinc.com/handouts/pdf/356%20Phonological%20Disorders.pdf