Articulation Disorders: The Essentials
What is an Articulation Disorder?
Children with articulation disorders can be known to do one or more of
- delete sounds (child says: /bu/ instead of /bus/)
- substitute sounds (child says: /sree/ instead of /three/)
- add sounds (child says: /spagbetti/ instead of /spaghetti/
- distort sounds (child says: /thpoon/ instead of /spoon/
Individual sounds develop by certain ages. If a sound isn't
developed by the expected age, the child could have an articulation
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By the following ages, children should be able to say the corresponding sounds.
At this age a child may still have errors on the r, s, z and th sounds, but they should be developing.
A child should be able to say ALL sounds correctly including:
¹Pena-Brooks, Adriana, & Hegde, M.N. (2000). Assessment
and treatment of articulation and
phonological disorders in children. Austin,
TX, U.S.A.: PRO-ED, Inc.
What is Articulation?
Articulation is the movement of mouth muscles and articulators...
- velum - or soft palate, rear part of the roof of your mouth
- hard palate - or roof of your mouth
- alveolar ridge - bumpy portion behind your top front teeth
...to make the sound of speech.
It is one of four
processes needed for speech production
When air comes up from the lungs the mouth muscles move and the
articulators change positions. This interrupts normal airflow and makes
What Causes It?
The truth is, Speech-Language Pathologists don't know exactly what
causes articulation disorders.
We do know that some speech errors are caused by:
- Hearing loss - children with frequent ear infections are at
- Developmental disorders (ex. autism)
- Neurological disorders (ex. cerebral palsy)
- Genetic syndromes (ex. Down syndrome)
Additionally, physical differences in the mouth can but don't always
have an affect
on how sounds are made, such as:
- Tongue tie (known as ankyloglossia) - this is when the flap of
skin under your tongue is too short
- If they were born with cleft lip and/or palate
- If they are missing teeth,
or have an:
- Over bite (top teeth
extend past bottom teeth)
- Under bite (bottom teeth
extend past top teeth)
- Open bite (teeth do not
fully close when mouth is at rest)
- Crossbite (lower jaw is
to the right or left of upper jaw)
Each of the above mentioned are criteria that Speech Pathologists will
look at and consider during an evaluation
Other signs of articulation disorders can be if you, relatives, or even
strangers understand a child less than 75% of the time.
SLPs use the term "unintelligible" to describe a child who is difficult
is a long word that means how well you can
understand someone else (if they speak your language, of course).
Some "misarticulations" can be due to a child's age. Every child learns
sounds at different ages but...
You should be able to understand
a certain amount of what your child says
, no matter their age.
Some of the most common types of articulation disorders are...
- Substituting a /th/ sound
for an /s/:
"sick" is pronounced "thick" (often
called a lisp)
- Substituting a /w/for an /r/:
"rabbit" is pronounced "wabbit"
- Substituting a /w/ for an
"like" is pronounced "wike"
My nephew is a personal example. When he was younger he used to call me
Yuke instead of Luke.
If your child is...
- NOT saying a sound that is close to their age
- NOT saying a sound correctly
- NOT saying a sound you would like them to say
...and you want to know what you can do to help before you see a Speech
our free speech and language screener
You can also look
at options for providing speech therapy at home.
Keep in mind that articulation
are not the same as articulation disorders
An articulation difference is when someone says a certain sound
differently than what is considered typical.
Only when the person says the sound with their tongue, teeth, and/or
lips in the wrong place, is this considered a disorder. People from
different states and countries have accents and use different dialects.
are the way people pronounce
words within a certain
group or region of people.
are specific types of words
that are used within
a certain group or region of people.
Some examples of accents
"I hiked up the moun-tain" might be
pronounced "I hiked up the mou-n."
"I bought some coffee" might be
pronounced "I bought some quafee."
"I need to park my car" might be
pronounced "I need to pock my cah."
- Someone who speaks with African
American Vernacular English (AAVE) might pronounce
"I'm going to take a bath" as
"I'm gonna take a baf."
Some examples of dialect differences
- In the Western U.S. we
call carbonated drinks "pop".
- In the Eastern U.S. they
call carbonated drinks "soda".
- In the Southern U.S. people
"buggy" for "shopping cart"
"I'm fixin' to" for "I'm going to" or
"y'all" for "everyone" or "you guys"
- People in England may
call the "bathroom" the "lieu" (loo)
someone who seems untrustworthy may be called "dodgy"
The bottom line
is accents and
- When children are younger they have a higher chance of being made
fun of by their peers. This can affect academic confidence and overall
- Sadly, older children and even adults who pronounce sounds
incorrectly can be stereotyped as less intelligent or less capable than
- In adulthood someone with articulation errors may be limited in
career choices or be turned down for jobs and/or promotions.
- In general adult articulation disorders distract the listener
from the speakers message which can cause communication breakdown's.
This can sometimes cause
frustration between both people and compromise relationships.
What Does an SLP Do to Help?
Speech-Language Pathologists teach children with articulation disorders
how to produce sounds correctly in their mouths.
This can be difficult for children because they literally have to
change the way the speak in most cases.
SLPs do more than just teach sounds for articulation though. After a
child learns how to say a sound correctly, there is a hierarchy the
child must follow to make sure they don't forget or lose how to make
The hierarchy starts with the student learning to say the sound by
itself (isolation level) with 80% accuracy or 8 out of 10 times. Of
course SLPs have a child practice the sound more than 10 times.
From there, the SLP moves through the following levels:
- non-sense syllables (ex. for /k/ - kah, kay, kee, koh, koo)
- words - (ex. for /k/ - car, keep, cat, coat)
- phrases - (ex. for /k/ - cars go fast)
- sentences (ex. for /k/ - I saw the car go fast.)
- reading (if the child is able to)
As a rule my students must achieve 80% accuracy during two consecutive
therapy sessions to move on to another level.
Keep in mind, each of these levels are completed for 3-4 different
positions depending on the sound, so for the /s/ sound each position
would be as follows:
- initial - sit
- medial - basket
- final - chess
- blends - skate, slap, sneeze, smell, star, spider, swim
Typically SLPs do intense practice during therapy sessions. They
usually try to get a child to say the target sound at least 200 times
in a session.
This is often referred to in our profession as "drill and kill."
SLPs play games to keep children interested and motivated because every
sound has to be mastered at every level and at every position.
So trust me when I say, SLPs do more
than just "play games."
What Can I Do About It?
The best thing parents can do for articulation disorders is model correctly for their child. Be careful that you don't correct them too often.
If a child is told to...
- "say it again"
- "say it right"
- "say it better"
...too much, or if something is withheld from the child until a sound is said correctly then...
...talking (or saying that sound) becomes a negative experience.
Please avoid this. It will makes it more difficult for children overcome articulation disorders.
- praise them when they say a sound that is close to the target sound
- model correctly all the time without over doing it
- help them understand where the sound is made (see this section on speech helpers)
If you are concerned that your child has articulation errors and want to work with them before taking them to see an SLP consider trying home speech therapy.
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