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Articulation is one of the big challenges that children have when they are beginning to speak. Briefly, articulation is a child’s ability to correctly formulate and produce different phonemes (sounds).

Experts consider this a “speech sound disorder” in the motoric production of speech sounds. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) reports that “Articulation approaches target each sound deviation and are often selected by the clinician when the child’s errors are assumed to be motor-based; the aim is correct production of the target sound(s).”

Step One: What is an Articulation Disorder?

Stanford Children’s Health explains that “An articulation disorder is the inability to form certain word sounds correctly past a certain age. Word sounds may be dropped, added, distorted, or swapped. Keep in mind that some sound changes may be part of an accent, and are not speech errors. Signs of an articulation disorder can include:

  • Leaving off sounds from words (example: saying “coo” instead of “school”)
  • Adding sounds to words (example: saying “puhlay” instead of “play”)
  • Distorting sounds in words (example: saying “thith” instead of “this”)
  • Swapping sounds in words (example: saying “wadio” instead of “radio”).”

Step Two: Understanding the Causes

Parents should understand that there are many reasons why children have speech issues, whether the cause is a developmental disorder, a genetic syndrome, due to hearing loss, or the result of brain damage. They should also remember not to take it personally, and that each child develops at their own rate. It’s not about bad parenting, or really anything to do with you. Take a breath. Take it one day at a time. Your child wants to speak as much as you do. 

Step Three: How Common is this?

While most busy parents hope their children outgrow these types of issues, most need some sort of intervention. Getting help from professionals should be parents’ first choice, but don’t forget about Speech Blubs! Our app has games and speech activities especially designed with the help of speech therapists to get your child practicing while you’re waiting to see a therapist or even between sessions!

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For some perspective, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders(NIDCD) at the National Institute of Health (NIH), reports some quick statistics:

Voice, Speech, Language, and Swallowing

  • Nearly 1 in 12 (7.7 percent) U.S. children ages 3-17 has had a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing in the past 12 months.1
  • Among children who have a voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorder, 34 percent of those ages 3-10 have multiple communication or swallowing disorders, while 25.4 percent of those ages 11-17 have multiple disorders.1 
  • Boys ages 3-17 are more likely than girls to have a voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorder (9.6 percent compared to 5.7 percent).1
  • The prevalence of voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorders is highest among children ages 3-6 (11.0 percent), compared to children ages 7-10 (9.3 percent), and children ages 11-17 (4.9 percent).1
  • Nearly one in 10, or 9.6 percent, of black children (ages 3-17) has a voice, speech, language, or swallowing disorder, compared to 7.8 percent of white children and 6.9 percent of Hispanic children.1

For even more perspective, ASHA presents the milestones for children’s articulation. The chart below shows the ages when most English-speaking children develop sounds. Children learning more than one language may develop some sounds earlier or later.

By 3 monthsMakes cooing sounds
By 5 monthsLaughs and makes playful sounds
By 6 monthsMakes speech-like babbling sounds like puh, ba, mi, da
By 1 yearBabbles longer strings of sounds like mimi, upup, bababa
By 3 yearsSays m, n, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g, and f in words;
Familiar people understand the child’s speech
By 4 yearsSays y and v in words;
May still make mistakes on the s, sh, ch, j, ng, th, z, l, and r sounds;
Most people understand the child’s speech
Speech Development Milestones for kids from birth to 5 years old

If your child seems to be behind these general milestones, contact a speech language pathologist (SLP) to have your child screened. The earlier these issues are checked, the sooner you can rule out other things like phonological processing.

Step 4: Can Speech Therapy Help?

Especially in this time of economic transition, parents on a budget wonder if seeing a therapist is worth the time and money. Studies show that targeted therapy can work for most children, depending on their individual circumstances.  Pedia Plex notes that speech therapists “have a variety of articulation tests that they can conduct to identify the child’s specific areas of need. They may also evaluate the physical structure of their mouth and muscles to see if these oral functions are affecting how the child speaks and forms sounds.”  There is actually a 7-step process for determining a child’s issues in pronouncing phonemes. For more information, check out our blog written by New Jersey SLP Stacie Bennett, “7 Steps of Articulation Therapy.”

Once you know which sounds are at issue, we have practical approaches, games, and speech therapy activities to work on them. See our other blogs on the subject:

  • The H Sound – mastery by the age of three, /H/ is produced by constricting the vocal folds enough to impede (stop) airflow, but not enough to make a voiced sound. 
  • JJ and CH Sounds Articulation Therapy – mastery by the age of seven, begin by saying the sound slowly and clearly for your child: “/dʒ/, /dʒ/, /dʒ/” AND if your child loves trains, play with them frequently, giving them plenty of models of “choo-choo!” 
  • Lisp Articulation Therapy – Show your child how to place their tongue at the top of their mouth just behind their front teeth before using their breath to say the sound. Once they do this correctly, ask them to say the sound multiple times in a row, /s/, /s/, /s/.
  • The Mighty M Sound – mastery by the age of three, “Ma, ma, ma, ma” is one of the first sound/syllable combinations because it’s made by bringing the lips together – one of the initial motor skills our children learn.
  • The S Sound – mastery by the age of eight, and to produce a clear /s/ sound the tongue is raised high in the mouth to almost touch the alveolar ridge, the roof of the mouth. This action should create a groove in the center of the tongue through which the air stream flows. Because the tongue constricts the space through which the breath stream travels, the /s/ sound should have a faint hissing quality to it.
  • The SH Sound – mastery by the age of seven, the easiest way to test if your child can produce /sh/ is by asking them to hold their finger to their mouth and say “SHHHHHHH,” as if they are trying to keep a secret.
  • T and D Sounds Articulation Therapy – mastery by age six, start practicing by strengthening the tongue muscle by having the child hold a cheerio, or smartie on the alveolar ridge with his/her tongue tip.

More specifically as to articulation games, see this blog:

If you have questions, or notice your children lagging behind their peers, ask a speech therapist about articulation therapy. In the meantime, try Speech Blubs to give you a better idea of where your child may be compared to the above milestones. Oh, and it has plenty of games and activities to keep your child busy while you work at home.

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