Speech Development in Children

by Care Speech Pathology 
8 February 2022

My child is difficult to understand and seems to be developing speech slower than other children. Should I be concerned?

Speech refers to the way we make sounds to form syllables and words. Our lips, teeth, tongue, palate, and voice are all involved in making speech sounds. Some children have difficulty with speech sounds which can impact on their ability to be understood by others. Whether this is part of the normal speech development process or a cause for concern will differ from child-to-child and depend on a range of factors.

Typical age of acquisition of sounds

Children acquire sounds at different ages. It can be useful for parents to understand what sounds should be produced at specific ages to determine whether their child’s speech needs further assessment by a Speech Pathologist. A Speech Pathologist can provide advice on the average ages that children typically learn to pronounce certain sounds.

Speech sound disorders... there are two types!

A child who does not say sounds by the expected ages may have a speech sound disorder. Speech sound errors are categorised into two error types – phonological errors and articulation errors. Therefore, speech sound disorders can either be described as a “phonological disorder” or an “articulation disorder”.

  1. Phonological processes: Children make pronunciation errors when they are learning to talk like adults (for example, a child might say ‘nana’ instead of ‘banana’, ‘pider’ instead of ‘spider’ or ‘fing’ instead of ‘thing’). It takes time to master the complex sound system of English and does not happen overnight! These ‘errors’ in a child’s speech are called phonological processes. It is important to note that a number of phonological processes are considered to be a typical part of speech development in English. However, each phonological process has an ‘expected age of resolution’ and if an error persists after this age in a child’s speech, it might then be considered atypical. This is when we might say a child has a phonological disorder and recommend that you seek support from a Speech Pathologist to get your child’s speech development back on track.
  2. Articulation disorders: Articulation errors, on the other hand, are not considered a typical part of speech development and generally indicate that the child is having difficulty putting their mouth in the correct position to produce that sound. Some of the articulation errors found in children’s speech include substitutions, omissions, distortions and additions. A child with an articulation disorder can have more than one speech sound that is said incorrectly. For example, for children with lisps, errors are often produced on the /s/, /z/ and /sh/ sounds. Another common sound on which children may have difficulty is the /r/ sound, as the tongue placement for this sound is relatively complex.

How can parents and guardians help their children?

If your child’s speech is unclear or contains one or more sound errors, there are a number of activities and exercises you can do with them to help improve their speech. The goal with these exercises is to provide a good language model and show you are listening to what your child is trying to say. Using positive reinforcement and encouragement can also help build confidence and self-esteem in children who are struggling with speech difficulties.

If you would like more information about speech sound disorders or would like to book an initial consultation with a Speech Pathologist from our team, please contact us on 1300 086 280 or at [email protected].

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