Speech sound difficulties

Speech sound disorders (known as phonological or articulation disorders) involve difficulties producing sounds. Your child may be able to produce a specific sound but may be using it in the wrong place (phonological disorder) or cannot produce the sound at all (articulation disorder). The first red flag of a speech sound difficulty is when your child is less intelligible than their friends of a similar age. Intelligibility refers to how easy it is for adults to understand your child’s speech.

Parents spend lots of time with their child, and can often get used to the speech sound errors that the child makes. This can often lead to you understanding your child’s speech, but extended family members or friends finding it a lot more challenging. This can be very frustrating for your child when they have a lot to say, but can’t be easily understood by others.

When children develop, they develop sounds in a particular order. However, children who sound more unclear than their friends of a similar age should be brought to a speech pathologist for an assessment. Your speech pathologist will be able to tell you if this is appropriate for your child’s age or if your child needs extra support to produce the sound/s.

What to look out for:

  • Do you think your child’s intelligibility (how easy it is for others to understand their talking) is lower than other children of a similar age?
  • Is your child getting frustrated because others don’t seem to understand their talking?
  • Do you notice your child substituting some sounds for others (e.g. tat for cat, seep for sheep)?
  • Do you notice your child not being able to produce a particular sound even when trying to copy you (e.g. “l” or “r” sound)?
  • Is your child frustrated because they know they are unable to produce a particular sound?

Early intervention for speech sound disorders is most effective, so the child can stop practising the incorrect sound/s, and start practising the correct sound/s instead. Therapy involves a range of steps – starting from producing the sound by itself, to producing it correctly when talking in conversation.