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Everything You Need to Know About Speech Sound Disorders

Does your child struggle to pronounce some words correctly? 

For instance, you may hear them say “wabbit” when talking about a rabbit. While those mispronunciations are certainly cute and charming at times, they could turn into a problem beyond a certain age. 

A typical milestone for kids aged four and above is the ability to communicate by producing sounds accurately. That means their speech is understood not only by family members but by strangers as well. The inability to make intelligible speech is usually a sign of speech sound disorders. 

If you’re worried about your child’s speech progress and want to keep him on track, then this post will be your ultimate guide. 

We will explain everything you need to know about speech sound disorders — from speech developmental milestones to examples of speech sound disorders and even how to help your child at home as well.

When Do Speech Sounds Develop

Children start developing speech sounds soon after they’re born. Most infants can make sounds like crying, laughing, or coughing within their first month. By the age of four, however, they can pronounce all letters and are understood even by strangers.

Speech Development Milestones

3 months:

By the age of 3 months, most infants can:

  • Start cooing
  • Pronounce back vowels
  • Cry, burp, and sneeze 

5 months:

Infants progress quickly and by the time they’re 5 months old, they can already:

  • Pronounce vowels 
  • Make playful sounds
  • Yell, laugh, squeal, and growl

6 months:

After half a year, your child should start babbling. Here’s the complete list of milestones most infants reach by the age of 6 months:

  • Produce raspberries (grossly-fricated sounds)
  • Make babbling sounds including ba, da, mi, or puh
  • Pronounce vowels more clearly than they did a month ago

1 year:

By the age of one, infants turn into toddlers as they start walking. But that’s not the only area they progress in, as toddlers can:

  • Produce adult-like intonations that sound like an exclamation or question
  • Babble longer sounds including baba, dada, mama, mimi, and upup

3 years:

In the next 2 years, your child should develop basic communication skills. 

Most 3-year-old children can:

  • Pronounce b, d, f, g, h, k, m, n, p, t, w clearly and use them in words
  • Communicate properly with family members and other people who they’re familiar with

4 years:

In their fourth year, the highlight of your child’s speech progress should be a significant improvement in their expressive skills. Your child’s speech should be understandable by most people at this age. 

By the age of four, most children can:

  • Say v and y clearly and use them in words
  • Speak clearly enough that most people understand them
  • Pronounce s, sh, ch, j, ng, th, z, l, and r sounds clearly most of the time. However, they still might make some mistakes with other sounds. 

Speech Sound Disorders

When children persistently have problems pronouncing certain words or sounds, they may have a speech sound disorder. In such cases, they may confuse one word with another, change a sound, or make a wrong sound altogether.

Examples

  • Missing parts of a word. Like saying “coo” instead of school.
  • Adding extra sounds to a word. Like saying “puhlay” instead of play.
  • Distorting sounds in a word. For example, saying “thith” instead of this.
  • Confusing one sound for another. Like saying “wadio” instead of radio or “wabbit” instead of rabbit.

Causes

While speech sound disorders often don’t have a known cause, the most frequent known causes include:

  • Brain injury
  • Hearing problems
  • Developmental disability
  • Disorders in the nerves responsible for speech
  • Physical problems including a cleft lip or cleft palate

For any type of developmental delay, early intervention is key to success. If your child shows signs of speech delay, you should seek professional help right away and provide some home speech therapy as well.

How Can an SLP Help?

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is a trained professional who can help your child in two ways primarily:

  1. Diagnosing disorders

An SLP will start by testing your child’s speech in order to diagnose any disorders. This usually involves testing for clarity of the sounds your child produces, any irregularity in movement of lips, jaw or tongue, or even a delay in your child’s language skills. 

Apart from that, an SLP will consider the hearing abilities of your child, as hearing loss is often associated with difficulty in learning to talk. 

  1. Creating and managing a treatment plan

Once a speech disorder is diagnosed, an SLP will create a treatment plan customized for the specific needs of your child. The goal of such treatment plans is to help the child learn to identify and produce correct sounds, and then practice those sounds in different words and sentences. 

Apart from creating the treatment plan, an SLP also helps parents and other involved professionals by providing education, guidance, and support. They also handle additional management aspects such as documenting the progress from day one. 

How Can Parents Help?

If your child is diagnosed with a speech sound disorder, you probably already have access to a home program created by their SLP. In such cases, you should work with your child to help them follow the program and bring up any problems with the SLP. 

However, if you’re in a position where your child is not old enough for a conclusive diagnosis but is lagging behind in the speech department, you can promote speech skills with the following activities:

  • Reading – One of the countless benefits of reading is the boost it gives in the speech department. To make the most of it, you should make it interactive for your child by making noises, pronouncing words, and finding specific sounds (such as the ‘z sound’) together. 
  • Self Talk – Use daily opportunities to talk out loud whatever you’re doing. For example, you can name foods as you browse through the grocery store, describe your actions when playing a video game, or even point out objects when taking a stroll in the park. 
  • Talking – Regardless of how obvious this sounds, the importance of talking to your child cannot be overstated. Talking to them makes a huge difference in their speech skills, especially when done strategically. For instance, you could repeat what they say while stressing the correct sound, target the same word by repeating it all day, or even introduce visuals by showing objects and images when talking. 

Finally, you should consider getting in touch with other parents who have a child with a speech sound disorder. Connecting with other parents is one of the best ways to improve your understanding while keeping stress in check. 

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