What Everyone Needs to Know About Articulation Disorders


What is an Articulation Disorder?

What is an Articulation Disorder?

This week, we are taking a fresh and in-depth look at articulation disorders in children, including trying to decipher what is fact, fiction and frankly what you need to know about articulation disorders in relation to normal speech development milestones.

What is an articulation disorder?  Articulation disorders have no clear cause. An articulation disorder is defined as a speech disorder involving difficulties in articulating specific types of sounds. Articulation disorders often involve substitution of one sound for another, slurring of speech or unclear speech. While most children make mistakes as they learn new words, it is classified as a “disorder” when the mistakes continue past a certain age (see below). The most common mispronounced sounds are /s/l/r/. In some instances, articulation disorders may indicate a delay in muscle coordination needed to make a certain sound. Frequent ear infections have been known to slow normal language and sound development.

Another type of Speech Sound Disorder is called Phonological Processing Disorder.  This occurs when a child has difficulty producing entire classes of speech sounds vs. individual sound errors. Even in normal development children begin to use sounds by simplifying them. As they get older, their speech matures and they no longer need to simplify sounds. A child who is using these sound simplifications and modifications beyond the age expected is said to have a phonological processing disorder. Children that are diagnosed with this type of a disorder are at a greater risk for later reading and learning disabilities. Early identification and treatment is key.

Other reasons for articulation disorder may be related to specific physical impairments such as clef lip- a separation or split in the upper lip, or clef palate, which is when the split extends to roof of the mouth. Both of these physical impairments require a specialized speech therapy treatment and intervention strategy to correct the impairment.

Examples of articulation disorder:

Deleting Sounds: a child will say /chee/ instead of /cheese/ or /tee/ instead of /tree/. Most often, the child will leave off a consonant.

Substituting Sounds: instead of saying /three/, a child may say /sree/ or instead of /rabbit/, a child may say /wabbit/.

Adding Sounds: this occurs in words such as /spaghetti/, a child may instead say /busketti/ or sometimes adds a letter to the end of a word such as /doga/ instead of /dog/.

Distorting sounds: this is when the child distorts the proper sound of the word or letter, such as /thoup/ for /soup/ or /dis/ for /this/.

Speech Developmental Milestones:

  • /p,b,m,h,w, vowels/ are expected to be mastered by 2.5 to 3 years of age.
  • /d,t,k,g,f,n,ng,y/ are expected to be mastered by 4 years of age.
  • /s,z,l,v,sh/ are expected to be mastered by 6 years of age.
  • /j,ch,th/ are expected to be mastered by 7 years of age.
  • /r,zh/ are expected to be mastered by 8 years of age.

Research has shown that nearly 7.5% of all school-age children have an articulation disorder. Beside the obvious delay in achieving their normal language development milestones, articulation disorders in children often lead to a negative effect on how teachers and peers perceive kids with this disorder. Children with articulation disorder may not participate in classroom discussions or may have trouble interacting in conversations so he or she does not draw attention to his speech.

When to Seek a Speech Evaluation?

You will want to seek treatment options anytime your child is getting frustrated at not being able to to be understood. Also, seek professional advice if your child is exhibiting speech distortions past the above listed recommended ages when these developmental delays often disappear on their own. Your pediatrician would be the first stop. If you are seeking a speech therapist, here are few suggestions on how to find the right one for your situation.

Public Schools Parent Network

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association 

Additional Articulation Resources:

The following resources contain excellent information about articulation disorders.

Download Speech Buddies FREE eBook: A Parent’s Guide to Speech & Communication Challenges

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Please stay tuned this week as we delve in deeper into articulation disorders.

Parents' Guide to Speech Therapy in School



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