What is a speech problem?


Learning to pronounce speech sounds correctly happens gradually. All children make predictable pronunciation errors in the process of learning to talk. There is an accepted developmental sequence for speech sound development. Some children continue to make mistakes with a particular sound or group of sounds past the age expected and others make mistakes with sounds that follow a different path. When children make unexpected speech errors for their age, it makes their speech hard to understand.

Children can be misunderstood, frustrated or withdrawn when people don’t understand what they are saying. Speech difficulties can lead to later problems with learning to read and spell. There are many different speech sound disorders requiring differential diagnosis and thorough assessment by a speech pathologist. These different disorders often require very different therapy approaches so it is important that the child’s difficulties are carefully investigated as early as possible.

Could my child have a speech problem?

By 4 years of age, your child’s speech should be clear and understandable to unfamiliar people or strangers (e.g. shop assistants), even if a few speech sound errors persist.

You may find your child’s speech easy to understand as you have become accustomed to their way of speaking but other people may regularly ask you to interpret what they are saying

Your child may need to see a speech pathologist if:

  • they are 3 years (or older) and familiar adults can’t understand most of what they say,
  • they are 4 years and can’t be understood by unfamiliar adults in everyday conversations,
  • they are frustrated or upset that others can’t understand them or
  • a health or early education professional raises a concern about their speech clarity or how they pronounce certain letters.

Use the McLeod & Crowe’s (2015) “treehouse” infographic to see the average age that children learn to pronounce English consonants correctly.

If your child is unable to say one or more sounds for their age then speech pathology assessment is recommended.

How do speech pathologists help?

If speech sound disorders are identified early enough they can be effectively treated using a variety of carefully selected techniques and approaches.

Speech pathologists analyse a child’s speech and determine which approach is needed. They then work out which error patterns to work on and in what order. Often lots of practice is needed to change sounds, so we make things fun and playful with lots of encouragement to build confidence.

Children with speech sound problems are at risk for later literacy difficulties, even after their difficulties are fixed so the speech pathologist will often include intervention on phonological awareness skills. The ability to sound out words and link to letters is a crucial step for reading and spelling.

Contact us for more information on how we can help with speech problems.