What is a Speech Sound Disorder?
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 the sound correctly. Speech sound disorders include problems with articulation (making sounds) and phonological processes (sound patterns).
In general, sounds are articulated correctly by the following ages:
- Age 3: h, m, n, p, b, d, w
- Age 4: k, g, f, t, -ng (and in ring), y (as in yes)
- Age 5: v, s, l, z, sh, ch, j
- Age 6: r, voiced th (as in that)
- Age 7: voiceless th (as in thin)
A person has an articulation problem if listeners do not understand the sounds or words that are being said. An articulation problem may sound like baby talk because many very young children mispronounce sounds and words. A child might leave out a sound. An example of this is saying “at” for “that” or “oo” for “shoe.” A child might substitute a sound such as saying “wabbit” for “rabbit.”
Most articulation problems occur without an obvious reason, such as dental problems, cerebral palsy, cleft palate, or hearing loss. We do know, however, that persistent middle ear infections can have a negative impact on accurate development of speech and language.
DPI resource for speech sound disorders.
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").
Phonological processes are the patterns that young children use to simplify adult speech. Most children use these processes during the time that speech and language are developing. Very young children may say “wa-wa” for “water” or “gog” for “dog." Up to the age of 3, these are appropriate productions of the words. As children develop and mature, so does their speech. Children stop using these processes (patterns) to make words easier. By the age of 5, most children’s speech sounds like the adults around them.
Children who continue to use phonological processes or patterns beyond the typical age of elimination may be very difficult to understand. These children may not hear the differences in the words and will say one word to mean three different ones. Children who omit the first sound in words may say “all” to mean: fall, ball, or wall. This makes communication very difficult and may cause great frustration for a child.
ASHA resource for phonology.