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What is articulation?

Articulation is the process by which individual speech sounds are formed. Speech sounds are formed when your tongue, jaw, teeth, lips and palate shape the air stream coming from the vocal folds. The act of speaking is a complex fine motor skill, requiring hundreds of precise, planned, executed, and coordinated oral motor movements.

What is an articulation or speech disorder?

Children have  an articulation disorder when they produce sounds incorrectly so that listeners have difficulty understanding what is being said or communicated. Additionally, the listener, rather than focusing on what is being communicated, may be paying more attention to the articulation or speech errors.

What are some types of misarticulations or sound errors?

Children’s  speech errors generally fall into one of three categories: omissions, substitutions, or distortions. An example of an omission is “up” for “cup” or “ee” for “eat”. An example of a substitution is the “w” for “r” as in “wabbit” for “rabbit”. When a sound is produced incorrectly, but sounds something like the intended sound, it is called a distortion. If your child has a “lisp”, this is an example of a sound distortion.

The following demonstrates the ages in which specific sounds are generally produced correctly:

2 years: p,b,d,m,n,w,h
3 years: t,g,k
4 years: ng,f
5  years: s,z,sh,ch,j,l
6  years: r, voiced th,v
7 years: voiceless th

What exactly is a lisp?

A “lisp” usually refers to a child’s difficulty producing the /s/ and /z/ sounds because of incorrect tongue placement resulting in a sound distortion.

What is the difference between a frontal and lateral lisp?

An interdental (frontal) lisp occurs when the tongue placement is too far forward, sticking out between the front teeth. This error makes the /s/ and /z/ sound like a “th”. (ie. yeth/yes).  A lateral lisp occurs when air escapes over the sides of the tongue resulting in a “wet” or slushy sound because you can hear the sounds of saliva. A frontal or lateral lisp may effect other sounds besides /s/ and /z/.

When can children begin speech treatment for a lisp?

In very young children, a frontal  lisp is often a developmental distortion and may improve on its own. A pediatric speech therapist may wait to provide therapy on a frontal lisp until a child is 6 years old. A lateral lisp is not a developmental distortion and treatment should begin earlier, around four and a half years of age if the child ready to begin corrective instruction. At Pathways to Speech and Reading, children are provided one-on-one instruction for correction of a lisp, and parents are encouraged to complete exercises for lisp correction at home as well.

What are the different types of children’s speech therapy?

Mild articulation errors exist when one to three sounds are not produced correctly, frequently with a substitution or distortion of sounds. As a pediatric speech therapist, I provide children’s speech therapy consisting of auditory discrimination training for the sound, with direct instruction for how to produce the sound correctly employing auditory, and visual stimulation. And finally, children will need practice saying the sound correctly. Other speech difficulties such as Phonological Processes or Childhood Apraxia of Speech require more intensive speech therapy. (See below)

Phonological Processes

Phonological processes are a way that children simplify the adult sound system while they are learning to talk.  Final consonant deletion is an example of a common phonological process in which children omit the final consonant in a word (“ca” for “cat”). There are many other phonological processes that children use because speech is a complex process. Use of phonological processes is usually stopped by the time a child is five years of age, but there is individual variation between children. If a child is using many phonological processes, their speech will be difficult to understand. This may be called a phonological delay, a phonological impairment or a phonological disorder. Speech therapy consists of auditory training, with instruction for phonological patterns that the child needs to develop in order to become intelligible. For additional information see  Phonological Processes.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech

(CAS) is a neurologically based difficulty with motor planning and programming for speech.  This results in difficulty with voluntarily producing and sequencing the movements needed for speech.  For additional information see Childhood Apraxia of Speech.

Who can help with my child’s speech difficulties?

A Speech Language Pathologist (also known as a Speech Therapist).  A Speech Language Pathologist is a professional trained at the master’s or doctoral level to evaluate and provide therapy for an articulation disorder as well as other speech and language difficulties.

What are some reasons a parent would seek a private children’s speech therapist?

Parents may seek the services of a children’s speech therapist for early intervention of speech misarticulations, to decrease the amount of time that sounds are produced in error, therefore correcting the error pattern more quickly. Waiting beyond the age when a particular sound is generally acquired, means that your child will be producing that sound incorrectly hundreds of times a day, further establishing the sound incorrectly. In the school setting, speech therapy is provided in groups, and a thirty minute session is divided between the number of students in the group. Your child may require on-on-one instruction to correct misarticulations. Additionally, children who have a lisp, phonological process disorder, or childhood apraxia of speech require more intensive speech therapy, and frequently need more speech therapy than what is offered in the school setting.

Will my child outgrow an articulation problem?

A child’s speech will usually become more intelligible, or understandable, as he or she matures and begins producing more, and more sounds correctly. However, some children may not acquire all sounds correctly, and will need direct instruction with a children’s speech therapist to eliminate these errors. If you are concerned that your child is difficult to understand, or not learning speech sounds, please contact me at Pathways to Speech and Reading. Some may recommend a “wait and see” approach to determine if a child will “grow out” of the articulation problems. Please keep in mind that a child will then be producing the incorrect speech pattern hundreds of times a day, further establishing the wrong pattern, requiring a longer period to correct. Early speech therapy for children is highly recommended.

Is it important to correct children’s speech errors?

Articulation difficulties will make it difficult for a child to communicate clearly with family, friends, classmates, and teachers. Misarticulations  may further impact the ability to express ideas, develop positive social connections, achieve success in the classroom, and self esteem. Our ability to speak and communicate is a very important part of who we are, and impacts our quality of life.

Is my child learning all sounds at once?

Sounds are learned in a sequence, with easier to produce sounds usually acquired first, followed by those sounds that are the most difficult to produce. Some sounds like “p”, “m”, and “b” are learned as early as two years of age. Other sounds like “s”, “l” and “r” are often not completely mastered until the early school years.

What causes an articulation problem?

Children’s speech difficulties may result from a cleft palate, hearing loss, physical handicaps, dental problems, tongue thrust. However, most children’s speech difficulties occur in the absence of any obvious causal factors.

Can ear infections have an impact on sound development?

If children have frequent ear infections during the important listening period, they may fail to learn some speech sounds. Children learn their speech sounds by listening to the speech around them, coupled with vocal play, whereby they will produce different sounds and listen to their own productions.  This learning begins very early in life, and ear infections will muddle the sound coming in the ear.

Please call for more information if you live in the following areas: Broomfield, Lafayette, Louisville, Superior, Boulder, Westminster, Thornton or Arvada. Call: 303-856-8817