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Identifying Speech Disorders in Young Children

by The Next Family September 14, 2012

By Lisa Woods, Speech Language Pathologist


What are speech sound disorders?

Most children make some mistakes as they learn to say new words. A speech sound disorder        occurs when mistakes continue past a certain age. Every sound has a different range of ages when the child should make that sound correctly. Speech sound disorders include problems with articulation (making sounds) and phonological processes (sound patterns).

What are some signs of articulation disorders?

An articulation disorder involves problems making sounds. Sounds can be substituted, left off, added, or changed. These errors may make it hard for people to understand you.

Young children often make speech errors. For instance, many young children sound like they are making a “w” sound for an “r” sound (e.g., “wabbit” for “rabbit”) or may leave sounds out of words, such as “nana” for “banana.” The child may have an articulation disorder if these errors continue past the expected age.

What are some signs of a phonological disorder?

A phonological process disorder involves patterns of sound errors. For example, substituting all sounds made in the back of the mouth like “k” and “g” for those in the front of the mouth like “t” and “d” (e.g., saying “tup” for “cup” or “das” for “gas”).

Another rule of speech is that some words start with two consonants, such as broken or spoon. When children don’t follow this rule and say only one of the sounds (“boken” for broken or “poon” for spoon), it is more difficult for the listener to understand the child. While it is common for young children learning speech to leave one of the sounds out of the word, it is not expected as a child gets older. If a child continues to demonstrate such cluster reduction, he or she may have a phonological process disorder.

What is childhood apraxia of speech?

Apraxia of speech is a motor-speech programming disorder resulting in difficulty executing and/or coordinating (sequencing) the oral-motor movements necessary to produce and combine speech sounds (phonemes) to form syllables, words, phrases, and sentences on voluntary (rather than only reflexive) control. Many children are able to hear words, and are able to understand what they mean, but they can’t change what they hear into the fine-motor skill of combining consonants and vowels to form words. This difficulty combining consonants and vowels into words upon direct imitation is called apraxia of speech.

What is considered “typical” speech sound development for Preschool-age, Kindergarten, and early elementary years?

Speech Sound Development charts are often used as a guide in determining whether a child’s sound acquisitions are developmentally appropriate or delayed.

What can parents do to help their child’s speech development?

If you suspect your child has a speech or language delay, speak to your pediatrician and ask for referrals for specialists in your area.  You may also visit http://www.asha.org for referrals and suggestions to encourage speech and language development http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/parent-stim-activities.htm.

****It is important to keep in mind that, between the ages of 18 months and 3 years, most children generally have errors in their speech.  IT IS PERFECTLY NORMAL TO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR CHILD IS SAYING AT TIMES!!! Many toddlers make speech sound substitutions.  These types of errors are common even up until the age 6. By the age of 3 most of what your child says should be understood.  If your child’s speech is not improving you should consider a referral with a speech-language pathologist.  Also, if the problem is not with speech sound development but rather language development, then you should speak with a professional sooner.****


Lisa Woods, M.S., CCC-SLP is a Speech Language Pathologist who founded her own private practice which specializes in learning challenges, reading and writing remediation, language processing disorders, executive functioning, social language deficits, cognitive challenges, and receptive/expressive language delays.  In addition to her work as a Speech Language Pathologist, Lisa is a strong advocate for education reform.  She serves as the President of the board of a charter elementary school in Los Angeles and is the founder of a charter middle school in Los Angeles. 

The post Identifying Speech Disorders in Young Children appeared first on The Next Family.

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