Serving Frederick County, MD and Northern Loudoun County, VA
Articulation Disorders in Children

How to Help Your Child Overcome an Articulation Disorder

Hi families! 

If you’ve found your way onto this page, you might be wondering what an “articulation disorder” is and whether it applies to your child. All kids demonstrate speech errors at some point in their development. Walk into a preschool, and it’s hard to find a child who doesn’t have any errors. You’ll hear “tat” for “cat,” “wain” for “rain,” or my three year old’s current, “sirsty” for “thirsty.”  

However, not every child with sound errors will need speech therapy. Sometimes errors are age-appropriate (and oh so cute!), but sometimes there are errors that do need correction from a speech-language pathologist… But how does a parent know the difference?

As parents, we are so excited for our children to begin to communicate with us! However, articulation disorders can make speech a bit trickier for us to understand. In this post, I’ll walk you through what articulation disorders are, signs of this speech sound disorders, and most importantly, some strategies to help support your child in overcoming them.

What is an Articulation Disorder?

Articulation refers to production of speech sounds. Therefore, an articulation disorder is characterized by difficulties producing specific sounds. Often articulation disorders refer to substitutions or distortions of sounds in individual speech sounds. This sounds a lot like, “my daughter is always saying a /w/ sound instead of the /l/ sound, like wizard for lizard!”

Articulation disorders lead to words (and possibly whole conversations) that might be difficult for others to understand, impacting speech clarity and speech intelligibility. Keep in mind that many children experience some degree of difficulty with certain sounds as they begin to speak, but an articulation disorder goes beyond typical development (more on this soon!).

Note: If you are noticing patterns of errors, such as leaving off the final sounds of words (“duh” for “duck”) or reducing syllables in words (“nilla” for “vanilla”), these could be signs of a phonological disorder, which is unique and different from an articulation disorder. (Blog post coming soon on this!)

What are Some Signs of an Articulation Disorder?

Identifying an articulation disorder early is essential for providing the right support. Early intervention is key to improving outcomes (link to EI post I wrote here). You might here some of the following:

Sound Substitutions: Your child may substitute certain sounds with others, like “wain” for “rain,” “dis” for this,” “think” for “sink,” etc.

Distortions: Your child may produce sounds in a distorted or unclear manner. Often, these sounds sound slushy. “Wish” might sound more like “wisss.” You might hear this with sounds like S, Z, SH, CH, “ZH (as in measure)” and J. 

Difficulty being understood: If you’re having difficulty understanding your child, it could indicate difficulties with speech sounds.

How do I know if my child’s errors are age appropriate?

Check out the chart below! Results from McLeod & Crowe’s (2018) study indicate that most consonants are produced correctly by 5 years old.

how is an articulation disorder diagnosed?

If you suspect your child may have an articulation disorder, contact a speech-language pathologist. Your SLP will conduct an oral-facial examination and assess your child’s speech sound inventory through formal and informal assessment. Your child’s SLP may also attempt to teach the errored sounds to see how well your child responds to certain strategies.

If treatment is warranted, your SLP will tailor their treatment plan specifically to your child to help overcome their speech difficulties. With appropriate speech therapy, most children with articulation disorders will improve. 

How Can I Support My Child?

– Avoid correcting them! When we create a high pressure situation, kids can get discouraged. Don’t say “say ____.” This creates a demand on a child for a word they might not be able to say correctly yet.

– Use the speech sound chart above to determine if your child’s speech sound error is appropriate for their age!

– Model the correct pronunciation of speech sounds. Gently repeat the word correctly and elongate/emphasize the sound. If your child says, “That pider is black.” You can say “Yes, that ssspider is black.” 

– Rule out any hearing issues. If your child has had frequent ear infections, it might be a good idea to get a formal hearing evaluation. Some sounds are actually harder to hear than others (e.g., /s/ is harder to hear than /b/). 

– Foster a communication-friendly environment. Make sure your home is a safe space for your child to practice speech. Encourage them to talk and express themselves without fear of judgment. 

– Be a patient listener. Wait until your child is done speaking before you model the correct speech sounds. What your child has to say is important!

Finally, consult a speech-language pathologist, and use your instincts. If you feel that your child has more errors than typical, your child is beyond the expected age for a certain sound, or you just need some guidance, reach out to a speech-language pathologist.

If you are in Frederick County, Maryland, please reach out, and we can discuss your concerns further. 

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