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Characteristics of Children with Communication Disorders

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Speech Sound Errors

There are four basic kinds of speech sound errors:

  • Distortions. A speech sound is distorted when it sounds more like the intended phoneme than another speech sound but is conspicuously wrong. The /s/ sound, for example, is relatively difficult to produce; children may produce the word “sleep” as “schleep,” “zleep,” or “thleep.” Some speakers have a lisp; others a whistling /s/. Distortions can cause misunderstanding, although parents and teachers often become accustomed to them.
  • Substitutions. Children sometimes substitute one sound for another, as in saying “train” for “crane” or “doze” for “those.” Children with this problem are often certain they have said the correct word and may resist correction. Substitution of sounds can cause considerable confusion for the listener.
  • Omissions. Children may omit certain sounds, as in saying “cool” for “school.” They may drop consonants from the ends of words, as in “pos” for “post.” Most of us leave out sounds at times, but an extensive omission problem can make speech unintelligible.
  • Additions. The addition of extra sounds makes comprehension difficult. For example, a child might say “buhrown” for “brown” or “hamber” for “hammer.”

Traditionally, all speech sound errors by children were identified as articulation problems and thought to be relatively simple to treat (McReynolds, 1990). Articulation refers to the movement of muscles and speech organs necessary to produce various speech sounds. Research during the past two decades, however, has revealed that many speech sound errors are not simply a function of faulty mechanical operation of the speech apparatus but are directly related to problems in recognizing or processing the sound components of language (phonology).

Articulation Disorders.  An articulation disorder means that a child is at present not able to produce a given sound physically; the sound is not in his repertoire of sounds. A severe articulation disorder is present when a child pronounces many sounds so poorly that his speech is unintelligible most of the time; even the child’s parents, teachers, and peers cannot easily understand him. The child with a severe articulation disorder may say, “Yeh me yuh a da wido,” instead of “Let me look out the window,” or perhaps, “Do foop is dood” for “That soup is good.” The fact that articulation disorders are prevalent does not mean that teachers, parents, and specialists should regard them as simple or unimportant. On the contrary, as Haynes and Pindzola (2004) observe, an articulation disorder severe enough to interfere significantly with intelligibility is a debilitating communication problem; and articulation disorders are not necessarily easy to diagnose and treat effectively. 

Phonological Disorders.  A child is said to have a phonological disorder if she has the ability to produce a given sound and does so correctly in some instances but does not produce the sound correctly at other times. Children with expressive phonological disorders are apt to experience problems in academic areas, and they are especially at risk for difficulties in spelling (Clarke-Klein & Hodson, 1995) and reading (Larrivee & Catts, 1999).

Determining whether a speech sound error is primarily an articulation or a phonological disorder is important because the treatment goals and procedures differ.

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