Speech refers to the physical act of making sounds to produce language and to communicate. (Click here to see a detailed explanation of speech.)

How Do Children Produce Speech?

It's amazing how much we take for granted in the process of speech. Usually speech comes so naturally to us that we never have to think about it. Although it may not seem like it, speech production is a complex process. Click here to learn more about all the things that go into producing speech. If your child is having trouble producing speech or speaking clearly, learning about the process might also help you understand where his or her difficulties may lie.

Speech Sound Disorders

For every speech sound there is an age by which it should be acquired. But sometimes the sound error continues past the age that it should have been mastered; in this case the child may have a speech sound disorder. Sound disorders can be divided onto two categories, disorders of articulation and disorders of phonological processing. Below is a chart that tells at what age a child should be able to produce each sound.


Articulation Disorders:

Articulation refers all of the adjustments and movements of speech organs involved in the production of a particular speech sound. So when a child has an articulation disorder they have a problem with the production of one or more sounds. For example a child may not be able to properly produce the letter "r". Articulation disorders usually fall into one of the following categories:

  • Substitutions: the child replaces on speech sound for another. For example may replace "r" with "w".
  • Omissions: the deletion of a sound.  "Nana" instead of "banana" for example.
  • Additions: An extra sound is added as in "chu-air" instead of "chair."
  • Distortion: the sound may be recognizable but just sounds wrong. The most common example is a lisp.


Phonological Disorders:

Every language has rules about the production of sounds and the ways in which they can be combined. These rules are known as phonology. Phonological disorders involve patterns of sound errors. For example a child may replace all of the sounds made in the back of the mouth, like "k" and "g" with sounds that are made in the front of the mouth like "t" and "d." In this case the word "cup" would become "tup" and the word "grass" would become "das".



Most of the time no one knows why speech sound errors occur. A child may simply not learn the rules of speech sounds on his/her own. Children who had frequent ear infections may have not heard sounds correctly and therefore does not produce them correctly.

Sometimes speech sound errors can occur as the result as a physical problem such as a developmental disorder like autism or a neurological disorder such as cerebral palsy.


What's next?

If you believe your child may have a speech sound disorder you may consider seeking an evaluation by a certified speech language pathologist (SLP). An SLP can provide treatment that can improve the child's articulation of individual sounds or help to reduce errors on sound patterns.