Normal Developmental Errors
If your child struggles with certain speech sounds, it may reassure you to know that most children do not develop their entire speech repertoire until they are approximately seven years old. All of them will pass through what speech and language therapists call developmental ‘errors’ at various stages, for example saying ‘wed’ instead of ‘red’ and ‘tat’ instead of ‘cat.’
Many parents are unsure whether these errors are part of normal speech development, and when there is cause for concern. If you’re worried, check out our When to Refer Guide, showing the common difficulties for each age group that might indicate a problem. Some children present with speech sound difficulties that are not part of typical development, and speech therapy is normally necessary to resolve these.
There are two different types of speech problem; one is phonological, where the child can physically make the sounds, but uses them incorrectly (cat: tat), and the second is to do with articulation, where the child has learnt to make the sound the wrong way, lisping and saying ‘th’ instead of ‘s’ for example. You can read about therapy for a lisp here, but in this article I am focusing on phonological speech problems.
There is often more than one contributing factor to speech problems, with possible causes including glue ear or a history of repeated ear infections (even if these have now been resolved), difficulties using muscles, problems during pregnancy or birth, recognised syndromes or disorders such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder or Down’s Syndrome, and genetics (difficulties can sometimes be passed through families).
How You Can Encourage Correct Speech Sounds
Speech problems can be frustrating for children (and those they communicate with), which can in turn lead to emotional and behavioural problems. Literacy will be affected if the speech errors translate into reading and writing, and of course if hearing problems are present then learning in general will be affected.
The good news is that there are lots of speech therapy exercises you can try at home to encourage correct speech sounds, including some great tablet and smartphone Apps to make it fun.
Practice activities that improve the child’s awareness of sounds:
What the beginning/end sound is of different words (focusing on the sound, not the letter)
Clapping the ‘beats’ in a word to improve syllable awareness
Reading books together and sounding out some of the words
‘Beginning Sounds Sorting Game’ by Lakeshore
‘Phonics Studio’ is a great free app for practicing each sound
‘First Words Sampler’ has letter tiles to spell out some basic words
‘ABC Tracer’ is a fun way to start tracing out letters as you say them
‘Magic Voice’ is a funny app that encourages the child to make the sounds louder if they are very quiet or reluctant
Remember, if your child is not meeting the Communication Milestones for their age group after you have been trying to correct them at home, it’s important to seek help from a professional speech and language therapist. Early intervention is the key to success, and children who enter school with speech and language delays are at a higher risk for learning difficulties.
If in doubt, call us on 0208 6737930 to chat to a speech therapist about your concerns.