A child may have an articulation disorder if they are deleting sounds (e.g., saying “do” for “dog”), substituting sounds (e.g., “dat” for “cat”), adding sounds (e.g., “balue” for “blue”) or distorting sounds (e.g., “thpoon” for “spoon”). In general, there is a range of typical speech-sound development. Most children are 90% intelligible to a wider range of communication partners by the age of four. If you are concerned about your child’s speech intelligibility or articulation, it is best to seek the advice of a licensed speech-language pathologist who will conduct a formal assessment. This formal assessment will involve looking at both speech and sound production and sound error patterns or distortions.
What Qualifies As An Articulation Disorder?
There are many factors that may contribute a child’s diagnosis of having an articulation disorder such as a medical diagnosis or illness (i.e., including neurological disorders, genetic syndromes and developmental disorders), the development and structure of the oral mechanism, exposure to adult language models and/or hearing loss. Some common articulation errors include substituting /w/ for /l/ or /r/, distortion of /s/ as /th/ with the tongue
protruding on the sides or out the front of the mouth and de-voicing, using a /k/ for /g/. Once your child has been formally diagnosed with an articulation disorder, you may be wondering as to what articulation therapy will consist of?
What Is Articulation Therapy?
Initially, a speech-language pathologist will determine which sounds will be most beneficial to target in terms of generalizing to other sounds and overall speech intelligibility. The process of therapy will begin by teaching the sound or sounds in isolation. This isolation process will be able to teach the accurate production in terms of placement in the mouth and movement of the articulators. Once production of the sound is mastered, the speech pathologist will follow a hierarchy of more complex language targets to generalize the sound to words, phrases, sentences, and, eventually, conversational speech. A hierarchy of speech levels includes mastering the production of the sound in that context at 80% accuracy or higher across a number of sessions.
A traditional speech therapy hierarchy may resemble the following:
- Sounds in isolation
- Sounds in words (i.e., all word positions: initial, medial and final)
- Sounds in phrases
- Sounds in sentences
- Sounds in reading/writing
- Sounds in spontaneous conversational speech
Articulation therapy involves significant repetition and targeting of the sounds in error. Although drills are often targeted, a speech pathologist will use a variety of methods to target sounds and keep your child motivated. Once the sound has been mastered at all levels of the hierarchy, it is likely to be remedied with minimal maintenance needed in order to support the best production.