My Child Can't Say...

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My Child Doesn't Make all the Sounds in Words Clearly... What Should I Do?

Moment In Time

Speech-language pathologist’s wear many hats, as they tailor each session to the needs of each child, adolescent or adult. When working with children, SLPs target many different needs. Some clients may need to address language disorders, developmental delays, traumatic brain injury, among many others. A popular topic or concern for parents is sound errors. Two examples of common errors we hear in children's speech, are the s and r sounds. Speech sound errors or Articulation errors are also referred to as, speech sound disorders. Speech sound disorders covers articulation and phonological processes.

Articulation errors

When a parent describes an articulation disorder to an SLP he or she may refer to sound substitutions as in "thong" for "song" or "weady" for "ready." Other errors include leaving the first sound off of a word (initial consonant deletion), as in"_at" for "cat" or leaving the last sound off of a word (final consonant deletion). Pronouncing, "ca_" for "cat." Sometimes parents are concerned about these errors and are unsure when to go and seek outside help.

Phonological disorder

When a sound error is patterned error, like all k and g (back sounds) sounds are produced as t and d as in “tap” for “cap” or “doe” instead of “go” these are phonological process errors. Other words with more complicated coordination like blends that contain two consonants together are also sound errors. So the word is reduced, only pronouncing one sound for the blend, as in “top” for “stop”or “tee” for “tree.” When children do not grow out of these sound error productions it may indicate a phonological process disorder.

So now that you have noticed that your child makes some errors in his or her speech...what do you do? The options and concerns may vary based on the your child's age and severity of unintelligibility. Below, a few options are discussed... 
To further investigate concerns about your child's speech and language, some parents may decide to visit their family’s pediatrician or meet with their child's teacher. If your child is under 3 you may seek an evaluation through Early Intervention. A new option, is to visit TherapyfindR.com and post something on our message board, or you can go directly to search for a professional opinion from our list of speech-language pathologists' profiles. Once you've decided what route to take, your path might lead you to a speech-language pathologist (SLP). He or she will discuss your child’s speech and language development with you. Afer the intake, the therapist will then evaluate your child’s speech and language. The goal of the assessment is to determine what if any errors your child is producing in his or her speech. Again, there are typical sound errors that a child may make in speech (phonological processes), the SLP will refer to normative data to determine the age appropriateness of these errors. If during the evaluation, the child produces errors that are not age appropriate, the therapist may make a recommedation to move forward and begin developing a treatment plan for that child.


Upon meeting your child, a therapist must establish a strong rapport to develop trust and comfort. If the assessment revealed errors that are not age appropriate, the therapist will begin therapy by introducing the child to the oral structures and explain how sounds are produced (using lips, tongue and teeth). Subsequently, before moving on to sound production the therapist may confirm that the child can distinguish between minimal pairs. Minimal pairs are two words that differ by one sound like "run" and "one" The words are spelled differently but they actually only differ in one sound. As mentioned above, if the child cannot hear the difference between the sounds, it may be indicative of another problem, possibly pointing to a hearing loss. If the child can identify the words appropriately, the therapist would continue the session and perhaps begin targeting the a your child produces incorrectly in isolation. Producing a sound in isolation means that you will only try to produce a sound with the child and not complete words. So if "s" is the target, the sound produced with be "ssssssss" and the child will be shown how to make the sound appropriately. Working on a sound in isolation is a very important goal in the treatment plan and will be vital in your child generalizing this sound into his or her speech.


26 November 2013 15:47
by Lauren Turk, MS, CCC-SLP