Mikee Larrazabal 9 min read

How to Help Children with Articulation Disorders

Growing up, it is common for children to produce articulation errors such as “wabbit” for rabbit. This happens as other sounds are more difficult and complex to produce than others. Speech development progresses over time as children develop their articulators and muscles needed for clear articulation of sounds. Other children, however, struggle to produce certain speech sounds. But there is no need to worry! To know more about articulation and articulation therapy, read more!

Articulation and Articulation Disorders

Before we talk about articulation disorders, let’s talk about what articulation is. Articulations of speech sound is one of the four processes needed for speech production. It involves the coordination of movement in our mouth muscles and articulators to produce specific speech sounds.

Articulation of speech

Articulations of speech includes:

  • Lips
  • Tongue
  • Teeth
  • Jaw
  • Velum or the soft palate located at the rear part of the roof in your mouth
  • Hard palate located at the roof of your mouth
  • Alveolar ridge or the bumpy portion behind your top front teeth

When air comes up from the lungs, vibrates the vocal folds, resonates to the nasal or oral cavity, the mouth muscles move and the articulators change positions. This interrupts normal airflow thus making different sounds.

Try it! Say “aahh” then round your lips, it changes the sound to “ooh”. That’s how important each articulator is. If a child or adult has a problem with one, it may or may not result in inarticulation or articulation disorder.

Facts about articulation:

  • A 2-year-old child should be approximately 65% intelligible to the general listener.
  • A 3-year-old child should be approximately 80% intelligible to the general listener.
  • A 4-year-old child should be very intelligible in connected speech. Often described as talking like a “little adult.”
  •  Approximately 50 percent of preschoolers with inarticulation also have language disorders.
  • Articulation disorders are the most common type of communication disorder.
  • It has a higher chance to happen in boys than girls.

Articulation disorder is a physical difficulty producing speech sounds.

When a child has an articulation disorder, this means they have difficulties producing specific sounds due to a structural defect. They can also have difficulty aligning and placing the articulators properly to produce a specific sound.

Inarticulation

Causes of articulation disorders

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders – Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a range of neurobiological disorders that impair an individual’s ability to process and integrate ordinary information; are characterized by speech, language, and communication impairments; and affect social and cognitive abilities as well. As the term “spectrum” indicates, there can be a wide range of effects. ASD includes Asperger disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Rett’s disorder.
  • Cerebral Palsy is a movement disorder caused by damage to the brain before, during, or soon after birth. The ability of people with CP to communicate effectively is often impaired by problems with speech and gestures commonly used in communication.
  • Parkinson’s Disease – Many people with Parkinson’s disease suffer from disorders of speech and voice. Cognitive skills and memory can also be impaired. These disorders are typically characterized by speech and voice that are monotonous, quiet, hoarse, and breathy. People with Parkinson’s disease also tend to give fewer non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and hand gestures. These disabilities tend to increase as the disease progresses and can lead to serious problems with communication.
  •  Dysphonia, or impairment of the speaking voice, arises from an abnormality of the structures and or functions of the voice production system and can cause bodily pain, a personal communication disability, and an occupational or social handicap.
  • Myofunctional Disorders, or orofacial myofunctional disorder, including abnormal fronting (tongue thrust) of the tongue at rest and during swallowing, lip incompetency, and sucking habits, can be identified reliably. These conditions co-occur with speech misarticulations in some individuals.
  • Hearing Loss                     
  • Physical Differences in the Mouth such as Cleft and Lip Palate – are birth defects in which the tissues of the mouth or lip don’t form properly during fetal development, resulting in articulations of speech characterized by a resonance disorder, articulatory/phonological disorder, swallowing problems, and hearing problems.
free consultation

There are four types of Articulation errors.

Articulation errors are errors in the articulations of speech production. These errors are common in children, as they start learning how to speak. This is a normal part of learning different speech sounds. Most children outgrow these speech errors. However, other children who have persistent speech errors may need help from a speech-language pathologist to get an articulation screening.

These articulation errors include:

1. SUBSTITUTION

Substitution occurs when one sound is substituted for another. An incorrect or usually easier sound is used instead of the correct one. For example, a child may say “I azzume Villiam’s buthday it Thuzday” or  “I saw a wittle wamb.”

2.OMISSIONS

 Omission occurs when a sound is left out that is too hard to pronounce. Sounds in words and sentences may be completely left out. For example, a child may say “I go a coo o the buh” for “I go to school on the bus” or “I ree a boo” for “I read a book.”

3. DISTORTIONS

Distortions happen when sounds are changed slightly so that the intended sound may be recognized but sounds “wrong,” or may not sound like any sound in the language. The best-known example of distortion is the lisp. For example, an /s/ sound may whistle, or the air comes out the sides of the mouth, making a “slushy” sound (a “lateral lisp”); or, the tongue may push between the teeth causing a “frontal lisp.” Example, they may say “kerrec” for “correct”, “tell me” for “till me“, and “guyth” for “guys”

4. ADDITIONS

Additions occur when a child inserts an extra sound within a word. For example, they may say “buhlue” for blue or “fuhlower” for flower.

To best remember these articulation errors, use the acronym SODA: S-substitution, O-omissions, D-distortions, and A-additions.

Are articulation disorders and phonological disorders the same?

No, articulation disorders and phonological disorders are different. However, they are both speech sound disorders. The phonological disorder happens when a child has problems with his/her sound system of a language. While the articulation disorder happens when a child has problems with the physical production of speech sounds.

How speech therapy can help

Children who struggle with articulation errors may benefit from speech-language therapy. Before you visit an SLP, make sure to consult a medical professional to get rid of any medical diagnosis that causes you or your child’s inarticalution.

During your first visit to an SLP, he/she will give a thorough assessment of your child’s speech and language skills. This will include formal and informal articulation screening tools to determine which sounds your child can and cannot produce accurately. They will then diagnose what type of articulation disorder they have based on an articulation screening.

Articulation Therapy

After the speech-language therapist determine what specific articulation errors or inarticulation your child produces through the articulation screening tools, articulation therapy begins.

There are 7 steps of articulation therapy.

1. Isolation

When a child with articulation disorder begins to learn how to produce a specific sound, the best way to start is to introduce the sound in isolation. For example, if he/she has difficulties producing the sound /K/, a speech-language therapist will show him/her where to place the tongue and how to produce it properly. Repetition and practice of sounds are then done for mastery. When your child finally knows how to produce the sound, they are ready for the next step!

Articulation therapy

2. Syllables

Now that your child knows how to produce a new sound in isolation, they are now equipped to produce that sound with a vowel before and after the target sound. For example, your child has difficulties producing /t/. A speech-language pathologist will then add each vowel at a time such as ta, te, ti, to, and tu or at, et, it, ot, and ut.

It is more effective to provide consonant-vowel words that children are familiar with. For example, if the target sound is /S/, a picture of the sea to represent “si” would motivate children to produce the sound repetitively. When your child finally knows how to produce the syllables accurately, they are ready for the next step!

3. Words

When a child can produce sounds in isolation and syllables, they are already capable to produce these sounds in words. To begin producing sounds in words, it would usually be practiced at the start of words (in initial position), in the middle of words (in medial position), and at the end of words (in final position).

For example, if the target sound is R, a speech-language therapist will introduce words with /r/ in the initial position such as RED, RAIN, and ROAD. Next, an SLP will introduce words with /r/ in the medial position such as ARRAY, ORANGE, or EARRING. Finally, an SLP will introduce words with /r/ in the final position such as CAR, FOUR, and ROAR. Once your child knows how to produce several words with the targetted sound, they are now ready for the next step!

4. Sentences

When a child knows how to produce words, they are beyond ready to place these word into sentences! To start, basic phrases we use at home such as “I see a ____” can be practiced regularly for mastery.

5. Stories

articulation screening

If your child knows how to produce sentences already, they are almost done! When your child articulates the sound /r/ in isolation, syllables, and sentences, they may still have difficulties producing the sound in narratives. Inarticulation may be a result of unawareness of the sounds given the number of words produced in a story.

There are available books and stories out in the market that will have a target sound that appears frequently. This is a great way to introduce these sounds in the same story while your child enjoys it.

6. Conversation

Conversations should be easy as it flows naturally. Once the child knows how to produce specific sounds in stories, a conversation about a specific topic is the next step. This is usually done at home or outside the therapy room. The caregiver should monitor and be aware of the specific speech sound errors their child produces.

7. Generalization

The last step of articulation therapy! Once the child masters the sound at all steps, they are ready to move over to generalization. This step involves producing the specific sound not just in the therapy room or at home, but also in different contexts such as the playground, school, and even in the hospital.

Does your child have trouble producing specific sounds? If you suspect that your child has Articulation Disorder, it is important to seek professional help right away. Contact us now for a free consultation and articulation screening!