Speech Sound Disorder

What Are Speech Sound Disorders?

Most children naturally learn to say sounds correctly by hearing other people say them. There are certain sounds that are typically acquired earlier and others that come a little later. For example, it’s perfectly normal for a small child to say “tat” for “cat” and “wing” for “ring”. But as the child grows up, they should learn to say those sounds correctly.

For some children, learning to say speech sounds correctly is not that easy. These children may have difficulty pronouncing just a few sounds or they may have trouble pronouncing many sounds. These children are considered to have a speech sound disorder.


Will a Child Grow Out of a Speech Sound Disorder?

Some children with speech sound disorders will grow out of it and learn the sounds eventually on their own. Others will require speech therapy to show them how to say the sounds. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if your child will be the kind to grow out or the kind to need help. The earlier speech therapy is started, the better the outcomes generally are. If a speech sound error is left untreated for too long, it can become permanent (into adulthood). When it doubt, it is always best to seek professional help from a speech therapist for your child’s speech sound errors.


What Sounds Should My Child Be Able to Say?

Certain sounds in the English language are considered “harder” sounds and we do not expect young children to have mastered them yet. For example, a 3-year-old does not need to know how to say /r/ yet. Some 3-year-olds can say /r/ but many cannot and that is fine. Below is a chart of sounds and the ages by which most children have mastered the sound. This does not mean that a sound cannot be worked on before that age, it just means that the research shows that there are still some children struggling to learn the sound up until that age. As I mentioned above, it’s always better to start working on sounds earlier, but if the sound your child is missing is way above his or her age, it’s safe to wait a while to see if he or she learns the sound spontaneously.


Will a Child Grow What Are Phonological Processes?

When a child is young, he hears the speech sounds of the language used around him, but he can’t yet produce all of them. Children don’t sound like adults when they speak. Speaking with all of the sounds of an adult is too overwhelming to a young child’s brain. To overcome this, the child’s brain creates rules to simplify speech sounds and make words easier to say. These rules are called phonological processes.

For example, sounds produced in the back of the mouth (like /k/ and /g/) are difficult for young children to say. Many children simplify this by creating a rule (phonological process) that says “If a sound is produced in the back of the mouth, I will change it to be produced in the front of the mouth (where it’s easier).” Therefore, /k/ becomes /t/ and /g/ becomes /d/. This is why it’s common for young children to say “titty tat” instead of “kitty cat”.

Keep in mind that these rules are out of the control of the child. He is not choosing to drop all consonants off the ends of words or change sounds around. His brain is doing it for him and he is probably not even aware that he’s doing it.


Are Phonological Processes Normal?

Yes! All children use some phonological processes when they are younger. This a very normal part of learning to speak. Here are some example of normal phonological processes :

  • Cluster Reduction (pot for spot)
  • Reduplication (wawa for water)
  • Weak Syllable Deletion (nana for banana)
  • Final Consonant Deletion (ca for cat)
  • Velar Fronting (/t/ for /k/ and /d/ for /g/)
  • Stopping (replacing long sounds like /s/ with short sounds like /t/)
  • Assimilation (changing consonants in a word to be more like other consonants in the word, like gog for dog)

When Should Phonological Processes Go Away?

When children do not grow out of using phonological processes or are using them longer than is expected, they are considered to be a problem. Most children stop using these processes without any teaching or coaching.

However, some children require speech therapy to learn not to use them. Here are some ages for when common phonological processes should stop being used :

Phonological Process Expected Age of Disappearance
Assimilation 3 years
Final Consonant Deletion 3 years
Unstressed Syllable Deletion 3 years
Reduplication 3 years
Velar Fronting 4 years
Stopping of Fricatives 4 years
Cluster Reduction (without /s/) 4 years
Cluster Reduction (with /s/) 5 years

What are Atypical or Idiosyncratic Phonological Processes?

All children use some phonological processes in their speech. These are considered natural or normal phonological processes. However, in children with phonological disorders, we sometimes see other phonological processes being used that are atypical or abnormal. These are different from the ones we see in typically-developing children. These can be red flags that there may be something wrong with the child’s phonological system. Children who use these processes should be checked out by a speech-language pathologist. Here are some of the atypical phonological processes.

  • Initial Consonant Deletion (og for dog)
  • Backing (moving front sounds like /t/ and /d/ to the back of the mouth like /k/ and /g/)
  • Glottal Replacement (ha er for hammer)
  • Fricatives Replacing Stops (sop for top)
  • Stopping of glides (darn for yarn)
  • Vowel Error Patterns

How to Treat Phonological Disorders:

If a child is having trouble with phonological processes in that he is using normal ones beyond when he should or is using atypical processes, we consider that child to have a phonological disorder. To treat this problem, our job is to re-train the child’s brain to overwrite the rule that he/she has created. Here are the steps for fixing this :

  • 1. Listening : First, the child must hear the difference between his errors and the correct production.
  • 2. Speaking Words : Next, the child must say the words without using the phonological process.
  • 3. Speaking Sentences : Once the child can say the specific words, he must use those words in sentences.
  • 4. Structured Conversation : Now, the child must practice not using the process during longer speaking situations, such as answering a question or telling about a past event.
  • 5. Carry-Over : Only once you’ve done all of that can you work on helping the child remember to not use the process in every-day speech.