Speech Sound Disorder

What is it?

Speech sound disorder is characterized by persistent difficulties in producing speech sounds. It can involve difficulties producing particular sounds or strings of sounds, problems controlling different parts of the vocal apparatus (such as the lungs or larynx), problems with the timing of speech, or difficulties with speech such as stuttering or lisping. Children with speech sound disorder have difficulties expressing language in speech sounds at an age-appropriate level.

Signs and Symptoms

All children shorten and simplify language sounds as they are developing. If a child uses immature, simplified speech—omitting or substituting some sounds—when his peers are producing words clearly, he may have speech sound disorder. Additional symptoms include a hoarse, raspy or nasal voice, abrupt changes in speech volume or pitch, and running out of air during speaking. If teachers and peers have difficulty understanding what a child is trying to say, he may have speech sound disorder. Speech sound disorder is usually present from early childhood, though symptoms can manifest later.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Speech sound disorder is diagnosed when a child’s speech sound production is not typical for his age and developmental stage. A child with suspected of having the disorder should be evaluated by a speech and language pathologist, who will administer standardized tests to gauge his deficits.

If a child is diagnosed with speech sound disorder, speech therapy may be helpful. In speech therapy, children learn how to create and differentiate between certain sounds. Certain mild forms of the disorder have been known to disappear spontaneously.

What are the risk factors for children?

Speech sound disorder clusters in families; a child’s risk of having the disorder increases with each family member who has it. Because speech sound disorder can affect a child’s ability to interact comfortably with other children and build relationships, the disorder may be complicated by depression and social anxiety.