How Do I Know If My Child Has an Articulation Problem?

Nearly one million children have an articulation problem. An articulation problem exists when a child produces sounds, syllables or words incorrectly so that the listener does not understand what is being said.

Articulation problems may result from physical handicaps such as cleft palate, hearing loss or other problems of the mouth, such as orofacial myofunctional problems (“tongue thrust”). However most articulation problems are functional in nature with an absence of any obvious physical disability.

Children acquire their sounds by listening to speech around them. Frequent ear infection problems may result in failure to learn speech sound and may result in unintelligible speech.

The gradual process of acquiring adult speech patterns is called phonological development. Phonological development involves three aspects: the way the sound is stored in the child’s mind; the way the sound is actually said by the child; and the rules or processes that map between the two above. By age 3 a child’s speech (articulation) is normally 75-100% intelligible. Sounds such as “h, y, n, ng, m, w, p, t, b, d, g, k” are learned as early as 3 years of age. Other sounds like “s”, “r”, and “l” are often not mastered until the early school years. By age 7 all sounds are usually developed.

Children may exhibit the following articulation errors: sound substitution, sound distortions and omission errors. Sound substitutions errors are when a child substitutes one sound for another such as, wing/ring, baf/bath; sound distortion errors are lateralizations of the “s, sh, ch, j” sound productions; and omissions errors are when a child omits a sound such as, ba/ball.

Parents should make sure that their children receive a regular hearing evaluation from a certified audiologist, particularly if there is a history of ear infections, allergies and frequent upper respiratory infections.

If you suspect your child has an articulation problem a certified Speech Language Pathologist can evaluate and help your child with his/her articulation problem. The Speech Language Pathologist can tell if your child’s speech sounds are developing within the “norms”. If your child’s speech development is not within the “developmental norms” traditional articulation therapy involves behavioral techniques which focus on teaching children new sounds in place of the error sounds. Working with correct placement of the sound in isolation, then words, phrases, sentences will eventually lead to normal conversational speech. Parental involvement with carry over of newly learned articulation skills at home is essential to foster positive and faster progress.