Thursday, April 28, 2011

Child Speech Development: Part 2

In Speech Sounds and Kids: Part 1, I told you all speech sound development in children.  I discussed the order in which kids develop speech sounds, how intelligible (or "understandable") we'd expect kids to be at certain ages, what sounds we expect at each age, and how "syllable shapes" play into the equation of speech sound development. With all that information, you'd think I'd have nothing left to say about speech sounds, right? Wrong. Once you get to know me, you'll realize I always have something else to say (I am a speech therapist after all!).

There is yet another way that speech sound development can be relatively predictable.  As I discussed in Speech Sounds and Kids: Part 1, most children will find the following sounds pretty easy to say: vowels, p, m, h, n, w, b, t, d. Children generally go from not producing these sounds at all to, well, producing them.   There is no real development of these sounds, per se. They're just suddenly there one day.

But what about the other sounds? The one that are harder, like k, g, f, v, "ng" y,  r, l, s, "ch," "sh," j, "th" and "zh"?  Some of these sounds don't develop until kids are into their preschool years. Can you imagine if children just left these sounds out of their speech until they were able to say them? We'd never know what kids were saying at all! And yet by age 3, most children are nearly 80% intelligible (if not more).  How does this happen? It turns out that children make highly predictable and very systematic errors when they are producing these harder speech sounds-- so predicatable and so systematic, in fact, that most adults are able to "decode" their speech without even knowing they are doing it. It's only when speech sound errors deviate from the norm or are very unpredictable that we really struggle to understand kids-- and this is when speech therapy is often needed.

Without further ado, then, here are the some of the most common "phonological processes" (the systematic and predictable speech sound errors made by children) that many children will use as they develop speech.
  • Fronting:  Fronting happens when children produce sounds that should be made in the back of their mouth in the front of their mouth instead.  Make the sounds /k/ and /g/. Feel how the back of your tongue hits the back of roof of your mouth?  Now make the sound /t/ and /d/.  Notice how now it's the front of your tongue that hits the front of roof of your mouth? /k/ and /g/ are made in the back of your mouth while /t/ and /d/ are made in the front.  Kids frequently "front" /k/ and /g/ by substituting /t/ and /d/. Go becomes doe, key is tee, and cookie might be tuhtee.  Fronting usually disappears by the age of three. 
  • Stopping: Stopping occurs when children stop air from moving continuously out their mouths. Make the sound /f/ and keep it going.  Feel how a stream of air flows between your teeth and lips? Now say the /p/ sound. You should notice that there is a small burst of air for the "p" sound rather than a stream of air. You couldn't keep /p/ going if you tried. You can keep the air going, but the /p/ is over with the second you stop the air slightly with your lips and then release it. Stopping occurs when children stop the air from flowing freely. /f/ and /v/ become /p/ and /b/ so that fan becomes "pan" and video becomes "bideo," while /s/ and /z/ become /t/ and /d/ so that sun becomes tun and "zip" becomes "dip."  Stopping also affects the sounds "sh" "ch" and "th." Kids usually stop stopping (ha ha) between the ages of 3.5 and 5, depending on the sound they are trying to stop stopping (okay, now I'm just getting punchy). 
  • Consonant Sequence Reduction (CSR): CSR occurs when children "reduce" (make smaller) a consonant sequence (a series of consonants in a row).  They simply leave out one of the consonants, usually the harder one. Stop becomes top, blue becomes boo, and green becomes geen. This tends to get better around 3.5-4 years of age.
  • Gliding: Gliding occurs when children make "r" and "l" sounds into "w". "Road" becomes "woad" and "lamp" becomes "wamp." I'm not even going to attempt to explain the mechanics behind this one, mainly because I really hate /r/ sounds. I'm a pretty good speech therapist, but the /r/ sound gets me every time.  Anyway. Suffice it to say that this error pattern usually disappears sometime during the school age years (and that if it doesn't, you shouldn't come see me.). 
Whew! If you haven't noticed by now, analyzing speech sound development can get a bit complicated. I listed some of the major patterns young children use, but I certainly didn't list them all. And things get really crazy when a child uses two or more patterns in one single word (and they do, often!).

If you are  concerned about your child's speech,don't worry too much about trying to figure out what he's doing. Instead, check out the intelligibility guidelines and speech sound development ages in Speech Sounds and Kids: Part 1; if your child doesn't meet the criteria, it's probably easiest to talk to your pediatrician about a referral to a speech therapist.  If you're just the curious type, though, step back and listen to your little one-- see if you can pick up on any of the above patterns in his speech. If you hear them, consider yourself well on your way to being an amateur speech-language therapist.

    Resource: Clinical Phonology (p. 229), by P. Grunwell, 1987, Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Systems Corporation


    1. My 3 year old started speech therapy today! I have 3 older children, one of whom is 7 now and has been in speech since age 3. I have to admit that I wasn't too concerned about my 3 year old until I started filling out the preschool screening forms. I knew he could be hard to understand for others but since he was with me 24/7 and I understood most everything he said, I hadn't thought too much about it. I could tell he understood what was said to him as well which helped me be more at ease. I knew he wasn't as bad off as my daughter was when she started. But, the therapist pointed out some things I hadn't considered beyond just the speech sounds and sentence length - ie inappropriate verb usage, inconsistent pronoun use. I am glad he is going to be able get in a few sessions before school is out and that he'll be able to get more in the fall.

    2. Wow! There is always a TON of information in your posts! We're starting to get a bit more out of our son, he'll be 2 next month. He's still behind others, but I'm not worried anymore!

    3. My 5 year old daughter has trouble with "s's". I am constantly telling her to "hide her tongue" as she pushes her tongue through her teeth when saying the sound. Is there anything more I should do? Should I be concerned? Thank you so much! I am so glad I found you! We just adopted a 16 month old boy from Ethiopia - his whole language world is changed, and I am looking for ways to help him as well. I will have fun looking through your site!

    4. Trisha, I hope speech therapy goes well for your 3 year old!


      First, the disclaimer- I can't really assess or make recommendations for your daughter without seeing her in person. But I can give you the following information about /s/ sounds:

      1. Check out this speech sound development chart:

      You'll notice that, according to this data, /s/ isn't produced accurately by 90% of children until age 8. So it's not unusual at all for a 5 year old to have some difficulty with that sound.

      2. I often tell kids to "hide your tongue" to get them to produce a /s/ sound accurately. This works best if the child is putting her tongue out between her teeth and doing more of a "th" sound than an /s/ sound. If it works well when I do it with a child, I'll certainly recommend that a parent do it at home-- as long is the child is cooperative and does it in an easy-going kind of way that doesn't frustrate the child too much! :)

      Hope that helps. Good luck with your little boy, too!! Did he have some words in Amharic (or whatever language he spoke in Ethiopia?). If so and if he's having trouble telling you what he wants as he moves over to English, you might want to try using pictures with him-- cut out or take pictures of the things he requests the most and let him use the picture to request the item. Just make sure you say the word in English as you give him the item. Pictures can be a great bridge while he develops language.

      Also, just FYI, I'll be doing a post later about what to expect in terms of language development in children who were adopted internationally! :)


    5. Early speech development is really important for the kids. A teacher of mine before puts a mini speaker near her womb that contains orchestra music and english vocabulary.

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    6. My son is 3 and I've notice he substitutes l for his w's. We try to correct him. Is this age appropriate or a speech issue? Can anyone help?

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    10. my 4 year old is at school and is seeing a speech therapist, at the moment he can say all his phonics sounds apart from J but when he puts them to words unusually he struggles with the front sounds but is very capable of saying the back sounds. For example fish for him becomes gish, I have been told this is quite uncommon so it will be a long process possibly into his teens. We are currently waiting to see an occupational therapist to see if he has any muscle development problems with his mouth.