"Articulation" is another name for speech sound production. The development of speech sounds begins gradually with an infant's cooing of vowels and babbling of syllables, to a toddler's first attempt at words. There is a typical developmental sequence in which children acquire speech sounds. They usually start to learn the consonants which are easier to see and produce, namely the lip sounds, /p, b, m/. These are quickly followed by the acquisition of tongue-tip sounds, such as /t, d, n/. Children usually begin with consonant + vowel syllables (e.g., me, no) and move to producing consonant + vowel + consonant + vowel syllables (e.g., mama, baby). They then start to acquire the ability to produce consonants at the end of their words (e.g., bat, pan). Children continue to refine their speech, saying more-difficult sounds as their verbal motor systems become more coordinated.
Learning to speak is "easier said than done". It involves good hearing and listening skills, the ability to comprehend, and strong verbal coordination abilities. It takes years for most children to develop the ability to speak as well as adults. As their listening and verbal motor systems are developing, it is common for children to have speech sound errors.
Many children do outgrow speech problems without intervention. A screening or assessment by a speech-language pathologist can help a parent determine if enrollment in speech therapy is necessary. If the child uses age-level speech sound errors, therapy may not be warranted, but the parent may be given suggestions for helping the child develop clear speech. The therapist may also make the recommendation for a re-screening or re-evaluation in six to twelve months to ensure that the child is continuing to develop sounds appropriately. Sometimes, however, a child may possess a speech delay. A speech delay occurs when a child uses the speaking patterns of a younger child. For example, a three-year-old child who says, "The wabbit is wunning." would not need enrollment in therapy, but an eight-year-old child would. Enrollment in therapy would be especially warranted if a child has a speech disorder. A speech disorder involves the child omitting sounds, substituting sounds, or adding sounds in a way that is not typical. The therapist can assess the type of errors and determine a possible diagnosis. One fairly common disorder (1 per 1,000 children) is termed childhood apraxia of speech (also known as dyspraxia or verbal apraxia). Children with this condition have difficulty with the smooth and accurate transition between one speech sound and another and are less accurate in saying longer and/or more complex utterances. Please refer to our Childhood Apraxia of Speech section for more information.
There are two ways to assess a child's speech sound skills, both of which are usually used during an evaluation at our center. The first is an informal assessment, in which the therapist simply listens to the child speak and determines how accurate and understandable the child is for his age. The second manner of assessment is formal and involves the child viewing and naming pictures. As the child names each picture, the therapist notes any errors, and determines if the child is speaking at age-level expectations.
Many young children with speech sound difficulties use Phonological Processes to simplify their speech. This is simply a rule system that the child may use to make speech easier. Following are some common phonological processes children may use:
- Fronting – Since it is difficult for young children to produce the back-tongue sounds /k, g/, they often employ the "Fronting" process, in which they substitute the front-tongue /t, d/ sounds in place of /k, g/ (e.g., saying "tup" for "cup" and "bad" for "bag").
- Stopping – It is common for young children to have difficulty producing "airy" sounds, such as /f, s, sh/. As a result, they often use the "Stopping" process by substituting the "airy" sounds with "stopping" sounds, such as /p, t, d/ (e.g., saying "bit" for "fish" and "doo" for "shoe").
- Blend Reduction – Since it is difficult for children to say sound blends (e.g, bl-, st-, dr-), they often reduce them to single consonants (e.g., saying "bue" for "blue", "tar" for "star", and "dum" for "drum").
Prior to the first therapy session, your child's therapist will prepare a plan outlining the sounds he is to learn and will select the particular techniques for teaching those sounds. We attempt to make the therapy process fun and rewarding for the child by implementing games for reinforcement of good practice. In order to help a child learn to speak more clearly, the therapy process is devoted to building his auditory awareness and discrimination skills (e.g., to help the child perceive the difference between what he is saying and how he is supposed to sound) and improving his ability to correctly say the sound in all positions of words, phrases, and sentences. Our ultimate goal is to help the child acquire correct production of the sound in his spontaneous speech, without having to think about it.
If your child is enrolled in speech therapy, he will be provided with a homework folder containing activities designed to target his particular needs. In addition, your child's therapist will counsel you on specific techniques to use with your child. Following you will find some examples of activites for articulation therapy that you can work on at home with your child: Memory Game: Take pictures which obtain your child’s sound and make copies so there are two pictures of each word. Set out an even number of matches. Have your child turn over a card and say each word. Click here to find worksheets with speech sounds. Glue them onto cardstock for extra durability. Board Games: You can use most any board game while practicing speech. Games such as Candyland and Chutes and Ladders are great for younger children. Older children may enjoy Jenga or Don’t Break the Ice. Simply, have the child practice their target sound between taking turns. “I Spy” Game: This game can be played anywhere. It is played by “spying” something around the room and giving clues until the other player guesses the object. Pick something in the room or outside that has your child’s sound. For example, if your child is working on the /s/ sound you might use words like “sun” or “slide” as words to describe. Give clues such as, “I spy something that is blue” and keep providing clues until the child guesses the word. Take turns and have the child spot something that has their sound in the word. Bingo Game: Click here for printable bingo cards. Print off the bingo cards of your choice. Have your child practice saying the words with his sound before the game begins. During the game, your child can again practice his sound by naming the picture before marking it. If your child gets five pictures in a row-BINGO! He will have so much fun playing this game, that speech homework will be an enjoyable experience! Literacy: You can use books to work on speech sounds. Go through the book of your choice and make a list of all the words containing their sounds. Read the book to your child, or have him read if appropriate. When you get to a target word, pause to have your child practice his speech. As always, it is important to remember that what your child says is more important than how he says it. You would not want to correct your child every time he makes an error, as this would become frustrating and deflating to the child's ego.