What are Articulation and Phonological Disorders?

 

An articulation disorder involves difficulty correctly pronouncing consonant and or vowel sounds. Spoken sounds can be deleted, substituted, added, or changed. These errors make it difficult – if not impossible – for people to understand your child’s meaning, in which case the speech is deemed “unintelligible.” Speech-language pathologists use the term “unintelligible” to describe a child who cannot be understood by both family members and acquaintances.   

Children struggling with misarticulations or unintelligible speech as they fall behind their developmental milestones, may be struggling with an articulation disorder.  

 

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”). A Phonological Process Disorder is linguistic in nature,

 

How to Identify an Articulation or Phonological Disorder

 

As children learn to speak and acquire new sounds from the ages of one to five, a certain amount of articulation errors is a natural part of the process. However, should these speech patterns continue beyond the expected age of mastery, a speech-language evaluation is necessary. When familiar and unfamiliar listeners struggle to understand your child’s speech or your child exhibits frustration or avoidance around communicating or repeating sounds, your child may be struggling with articulation. Here are some of the red flags to look for in your child’s speech development that may suggest an articulation disorder is present.

  • Omissions – Leaving out essential sounds from a word (For example: saying /tee/ instead of /tree/.)

  • Substitutions – replacing sounds with similar – but incorrect – sounds (For example: saying /fith/ instead of /fish/.)

  • Distortions – mispronouncing sounds (For example: saying /sock/ with a distorted /s/ sound that cannot be clearly distinguished as another sound.)

  • Additions – adding an unnecessary sound to an appropriately pronounced word (For example: saying /spaghettis/ instead of /spaghetti/)

An example of a Phonological Disorder is the rule of speech is that some words start with two consonants, such as broken or spoon.  When children don’t follow this rule and say only one of the sounds (“boken” for broken or “poon” for spoon), it is more difficult for the listener to understand the child. While it is common for young children learning speech to leave one of the sounds out of the word, it is not expected as a child gets older. If a child continues to demonstrate such cluster reduction, he or she may have a phonological process disorder.

What Causes Articulation Disorders?

 

Articulation disorders in children may be the result of oral structural deviations or weaknesses in oral musculature. Hearing loss, auditory linguistic processing disorders (phonological disorders), developmental disorders (ex. Autism), neurological disorders (ex. Cerebral palsy), genetic disorders (ex. Down syndrome), and motor-planning (apraxia of speech) may also contribute to a child’s articulatory challenges.

In addition, the physiology of your child’s mouth also plays an important role in his or her ability to correctly articulate sounds. A cleft lip or palate, tongue tie, missing teeth, or misaligned bite all have an impact on how sounds are made.

Articulation Disorder Treatment

 

A trained speech pathologist will consider all of the above criteria during a speech evaluation, which is the first step in determining whether your child’s misarticulations are the result of an articulation disorder. Treatment of an articulation disorder varies according to how the disorder manifests itself in speech, but it often involves isolating the problematic phoneme (unique sound), practicing production of that sound, and then practicing the sound in context.

 

As children grow, their speech and language habits become deeply engrained, meaning that the longer their mispronunciation goes unaddressed the harder it is to correct. While parents may smile as their child sweetly says /wabbit/ instead of /rabbit/, ultimately the child needs to be taught to produce the sound correctly before the habit becomes permanent.

If your child is living with an articulation disorder, finding a quality speech-language pathologist is a top priority. At Use Your Words Speech Therapy, our SLPs are experienced in treating a variety of speech-language disorders and do so with unparalleled skill and compassion.