What Are Speech Sound Disorders?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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Speech sound disorders are disorders a child can experience when he is learning to speak and producing some wrong pronunciations or cannot produce a sound at all. It is inevitable that a child make several mistakes when learning a language, but when the mistakes are persistent and are not corrected after a specific period or age, the condition will be considered a disorder. Speech sound disorders are not just limited to children, but can also be experienced by adults in some occasions of paralysis or a stroke.

Normally, the cause of speech sound disorders would be a habitual improper placement of “articulators,” the parts of the mouth that helps produce a sound. For example, a “lisp” sound is produced when the person puts the tip of his tongue in between his upper and lower teeth when producing the “s” sound, instead of just placing the tongue behind his teeth. In these cases, habits can be undone and disorder can be treated without much problems. A speech sound disorder, however, can also be caused by physical factors, such as genetic disorders like autism and Down syndrome, physical defects such as a cleft palate, and deafness. Damage to a part of the brain can also cause a speech sound disorder, such as in cerebral palsy.


There are generally two types of speech sound disorders: the articulation and the phonemic disorders. A child who has an articulation disorder will usually have a problem physically producing a certain sound, probably because he has yet to learn how to use his articulators properly. For example, the word “rainbow” may sound like “wainbow,” as the child does not yet know how to curl his tongue to produce the “r” sound. Sometimes, the sound is not substituted but is actually omitted, so, for instance, “rainbow” will sound like “ainbow.”

The phonemic, or phonological, disorder has to do with failure to distinguish a certain sound from another. For example, a child might hear the word “cat,” but produces a word that sounds more like “tat.” In some cases, the child actually distinguishes the sounds when he hears it, but does not distinguish them when he himself produces the sound. In this way, not only is the sound altered, but sometimes also the meaning of the sound or the word is as well.

Once speech sound disorders are diagnosed, they can be treated with the help of a “speech-language pathologist (SLP)”. The SLP will usually have one-on-one sessions with the child in order to thoroughly correct the errors by demonstrating the proper and correct way of producing sound and letting the child imitate the action. Parents may also help by talking clearly to their child and correcting any speech errors if they occur.


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