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A parent's guide to speech sound disorders

Updated: May 16, 2019

What are speech sound disorders?

There are two general types of speech sound disorders, an articulation disorder and a phonological disorder. An articulation disorder occurs when a child has difficulty correctly producing a specific sound(s). A phonological disorder involves the rules of speech. A child with a phonological disorder may be able to produce all age appropriate sounds correctly, however, they may make patterns of speech sound errors during conversational speech, contributing to reduced intelligibility.

Why do children have speech sound disorders?

Speech difficulties can be the result of motor speech disorders, structural differences (cleft palate), or hearing loss, however, the causes of most childhood articulation and phonological speech sound disorders are unknown.

How do I know if my child has a speech sound disorder?

It’s a normal part of development for children to say some sounds the wrong way as they learn to talk. There are guidelines on when children are expected to produce certain sounds correctly.

  • Your child may have a speech sound disorder if they have trouble making some sounds.

  • Your child may substitute another sound, leave sounds out, add sounds, or change the sound.

  • One major sign of a speech sound disorder is reduced intelligibility.

As a general rule of thumb, children 2 years old are expected to be 50% intelligible, children 3 years old are expected to be 75% intelligible and by 4 years old, children are expected to be at least 95% intelligible. See speech and language milestones to see if your child is on track.

How do you treat speech sound disorders?

Speech-language pathologists can help your child become more intelligibility and say sound correctly. This involves teaching specific sounds, learning to tell when a sound is right or wrong, practicing the sounds in a variety of ways and environments until the child can produce it independently across contexts. Treatment of speech sound disorders often includes a home practice program.

Will my child outgrow his/her speech sound disorders?

Some articulation issues may resolve as children grow older, others will improve with direct speech therapy. Early treatment is shown to lead to better outcomes but without treatment the problem will likely persist.

Other resources for speech sound disorders:


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