Phonological Processes

by Care Speech 
9 August 2022

Phonological processes are common sound substitutions that children use to simplify speech as they are learning to talk (such as a young child saying ‘wocket’ instead ‘rocket’). These substitutions are a normal part of speech development and often resolve naturally as a child’s speech system matures.

What are some examples of phonological processes?

We know, for instance, that most children learning to talk will leave off the final sound in words, such as by saying ‘boo’ instead of ‘book’. This is known as a final consonant deletion and is a syllable structure process.

Children might also replace a sound that is made at the back of the mouth with a sound that is made at the front of the mouth, such as by saying ‘tar’ instead of ‘car’. This is called velar fronting and is a substitution process.

Children may also present with an assimilation process where they re-use the syllable they have just said rather than forming a new one, such as saying “dada” instead of “daddy”. This is why you may have heard very young children say ‘dada’ but older children say ‘daddy’.

Phonological processes like these ones are normal developmental steps that most children progress through at their own pace. As they get older, these errors resolve and their speech starts to sound more adult-like.

Does my child need Speech Pathology for phonological processes?

For most children, phonological processes do not require therapy. The child will simply ‘grow out of them’ as their speech becomes more adult-like. However, some children can get stuck on phonological processes and hang on to them for longer than expected. In these cases, a Speech Pathologist may need to provide therapy to help them move on to the next step in their speech development.

Consider seeing a Speech Pathologist if any of these apply to your child:

  • You often don’t understand what your child is trying to tell you
  • You frequently ask your child to repeat themselves
  • New people struggle to understand what your child is saying
  • You feel you have to ‘interpret’ for your child around other people
  • You often find yourself guessing what your child means
  • Only your child’s siblings can understand most of what they are saying

What does therapy look like for phonological processes?

In traditional articulation therapy, only one sound is targeted at a time. But if you are working on a phonological process like final consonant deletion, you might work on a range of different sounds simultaneously.

For example, mane, make, mate and male are the same except for the last sound. If we compare any of these words to the word may, it highlights that there is an additional sound at the end.

So, in this example, we are not actually teaching the child how to pronounce ‘k’ or ‘l’ - we are simply showing them that they need to include a final sound at the end (whatever that final sound may be!) to convey the desired meaning.

Phonological process therapy, therefore, involves comparing-and-contrasting tasks that help the child to recognise that different sounds make different words, and different words have different meanings!

In many ways, the steps for phonological process therapy are similar to those for articulation therapy. They are as follows:

  1. Eliciting the sound – Can the child identify the sound? Can they say the sound? Can they recognise words that do/don’t have that sound?
  2. Generalising the target sound to different tasks, with increasing difficulty  Can the child use the correct sound in a word, and then in a sentence? Can they use the sound in conversation?
  3. Maintaining the target sound – Can the child say the sound without effort in daily situations? Is the child learning to correct themselves?

Once a child has resolved all of their phonological processes (usually by about age 6), their speech clarity will closely resemble that of an adult, and you should be able to understand everything they are saying.

If you are concerned about the clarity of your child’s speech and would like to find out more about phonological processes therapy for your child, please contact us on 1300 086 280 or at [email protected].

References

Bowen, C. (2011). Table 2: Phonological Processes. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on 21/7/2022

McLeod, S., Harrison, L.J., & McCormack, J. (2012). The Intelligibility in Context Scale: Validity and Reliability of a Subjective Rating Measure. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research 55. 648-656. DOI: 10.1044/1092-4388(2011/10-0130)

WPS Publishing. (2022). Types of phonological processes. https://www.wpspublish.com/types-of-phonological-processes.

ASHA. (2022). Speech Sound Disorders – Articulation and Phonology. https://www.asha.org/practice-portal/clinical-topics/articulation-and-phonology/

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