Is your child having trouble saying their sounds clearly? Do you or other communication partners have a hard time understanding what your child is saying?
You and your child are not alone- research shows that up to 25% of school-age children present with speech sound disorders, and speech-language pathologists are here to help (ASHA, 2020).
Let us dive into what you need to know about speech sound disorders and how speech therapy can improve both your child’s speech and their confidence in their communication!
First, it is important to note that under the umbrella term, ‘speech sound disorders’, are two categories- functional speech sound disorders and organic speech sound disorders.
When a speech sound disorder is functional, that means that there is no known cause. Your child is either having difficulty with their articulation, which is the motor aspect, or their phonology, which is the linguistic aspect. Then there are organic speech sound disorders, where it is developmental or acquired. This can include sensory/perceptual (e.g. hearing loss), structural (e.g. cleft palate), or motor/neurological (e.g. apraxia and dysarthria) (ASHA, 2020).
Some children have difficulty with their speech because their brain is having trouble sending the right messages to the speech muscles- this is called apraxia. While apraxia is not very common, it can negatively impact a child’s speech. Other children may present with weak speech muscles- this is called dysarthria (ASHA, 2020). As you can see, there are many factors that attribute to a child having a speech sound disorder.
Next, it is necessary to point out that it is typical for children to say some words incorrectly as they are learning to talk. Further, they do not learn all their sounds at the same time!! For example, children learn sounds like /p/ and /m/ way before /r/ and /th/. A good guideline to go by is that around 4 years old is when most children can say almost all their speech sounds correctly (ASHA, 2020). If your child is demonstrating difficulty beyond this age, they may be showing signs of a speech sound disorder.
You should also know that speech sound disorders are not uniform, and children can demonstrate various errors in their speech. This can include substituting sounds, adding them in, leaving them out, or changing the sound altogether. When a child is younger, it is normal for them to say sounds wrong or leave sounds out of words; however, as they age, it may become a problem that needs to be addressed (ASHA, 2020).
Now that we have gone over what speech sound disorders are and what they may look like, let us discuss what you should do next.
If you believe your child presents with a speech sound disorder, start with our developmental checklist and we will schedule an evaluation with one of our speech-language pathologists.
During the assessment, they will listen to your child’s speech sounds and look at their speech muscles. A speech-language pathologist can also determine if your child has a speech problem or has an accent or dialect- accents or dialects would NOT be considered a speech sound disorder (ASHA, 2020). Based on the speech-language pathologist’s results and recommendations, your child may be scheduled for treatment sessions.
In speech therapy, your child will learn the correct way to make sounds- they will progress from words to sentences to conversation to ensure that they have proper carryover of target sounds in all levels. The length and intensity of your child’s speech therapy will depend on their severity and your schedule, with the end goal being improving their speech, intelligibility, and confidence!
Speech sound disorders. (2020). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/Speech-Sound-Disorders/
Speech sound disorders: Articulation and phonology. (2020). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589935321§ion=Overview