A speech sound disorder is one of the most common paediatric communication disorders and forms a large part of a Speech Therapist’s caseload.

It refers to any difficulty or combination of difficulties with the perception, motor production or phonological representation of speech sounds (ASHA, 2023). In other words, it is difficulty producing or learning the speech sounds of a particular language. There are different types of speech sound disorders, and speech therapy will differ according to the type of speech sound disorder.

Types of Speech Sound Disorders 

  1. Articulation: Difficulty in the production of sounds (e.g. lisps)
  2. Phonology: Predictable rule based errors affecting more than one sound. (e.g. good – dood; cat – tat)
  3. Motor Speech: Deficits in planning or programming the speech sounds (apraxia) or execution of speech movement (dysarthia) usually from  motor or neurological causes. 
  4. Structural: Speech orders due to structural deficits, cleft palate or another orofacial anomaly. Structural deficits due to surgery. 
  5. Perceptual: Speech disorders to sensory or perceptual causes, such as a hearing impairment. 

Children will master different speech sounds at different ages, so there is an average age of speech sound acquisition that we would like to see achieved. During my assessments, I use the average ages proposed by McLeod and Crowe (2018)’s treehouse chart to determine whether speech sound errors are still considered “normal”. Have a look at the treehouse chart below.

Children with speech sound disorders, which persist after the average of acquisition, are at increased risk of social, emotional and/or academic challenges, compared to peers with typical speech. This is not limited to children with severely unintelligible speech, so even children with one or two speech sound errors can present with these challenges. There is also a critical age hypothesis, which states that if a child is not intelligible by school-going age, the child could be at heightened risk of developing reading difficulties. 

Research shows that speech production, phonological awareness and word decoding are interrelated for children with speech sound disorders. This means that if speech errors are not addressed before starting formal schooling, children may struggle to learn to read. The good news is that early recognition and diagnosis of a speech sound disorder can help a child overcome the speech difficulties. This means that should you struggle to understand your child’s speech or if speech errors are persisting longer than the average age of acquisition, it may be a good idea to obtain a speech and language assessment, conducted by a speech therapist.

Should you be concerned about your child’s speech development, please feel free to reach out to me so we can discuss the best way forward for your child.

cathy@speech-therapy.co.za or 0834760468 (WhatsApp message is usually better).

About Cathy

Cathy Flores is a speech-language therapist and audiologist, practising since 2008. She is currently only practicing in speech-language therapy. She has worked in both the private and public sectors in educational and hospital settings. She has a special interest in early communication intervention and complex communication needs, which led her to complete her Masters in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Additionally, her interest in literacy-based challenges inspired pursuing a postgraduate certificate in education focusing on the Foundation Phase of school. Cathy is also currently working part-time for the Centre for AAC at the University of Pretoria, where she is involved in various interesting research studies involving AAC.

As Cathy is both a clinician and a researcher, she ensures evidence-based practice in her therapeutic approach. With her little clients, Cathy incorporates a play-based approach in her therapy. This proves to be appealing to those in her therapeutic care, so you are bound to hear the fun coming from her room.