What is a Speech Sound Disorder?

Speech Sound Disorder

A foundational part of learning how to speak is learning how to form the sounds used in language. Certain sounds are easier to form and come earlier, such as the “M” and “D” sounds in “mama” and “dada” – two very common first words. Other sounds are more difficult to create, like “Z,” “S,” and “Th.” Most children struggle with a variety of speech sounds for a few years, and most are able to articulate the majority of speech sounds by age four. By age eight, most children have mastered all of the sounds of speech. 

But for some children, certain speech sound milestones take longer to achieve. When children have trouble making certain sounds and being understood when they speak past the age of four, that could indicate a speech sound disorder. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that every child develops differently. If you suspect that your child may have a speech sound disorder, the first thing to do is set a doctor’s appointment. At your child’s regular checkups, your pediatrician should monitor your child’s verbal development, but it’s important to advocate for your child if your pediatrician doesn’t inquire about your child’s speech. (This can be a particular problem if your child is shy and doesn’t speak up at the doctor’s office.) 

When pediatricians suspect speech sound disorders among children, they order a hearing test. This is because your child may not have trouble articulating herself at all but rather may have trouble hearing how particular words are supposed to sound. 

If hearing issues are ruled out, the next step is to look at other possible causes. Again, it may simply be that your child needs a little more time to develop, or she may have a strong accent (depending upon where you live). Other possible reasons for children speech sound disorders include developmental disabilities; physical abnormalities of the lips, tongue, or nose; or disorders that affect the nerves involved in speech. 

If your child has a speech sound disorder, a speech language pathologist can help. A qualified SLP can work with your child using play therapy to work on the sounds she has trouble with and practice techniques that may help her speak more clearly. 

To learn more about speech sound disorders, read over these resources from ASHA and Stanford Children’s Health, or give our office a call. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have or to set up a free consultation.