Speech & Disorders

Speech & Sound Disorders

SHOWWhat is a speech sound disorder?

A speech sound disorder occurs when a child has difficulty producing speech sounds beyond the age when they are expected. (See Developmental Sound Acquisition Chart for English or Chinese). A child with mild speech disorder may only have trouble making certain sounds or switching sounds around such as saying ”dat” for cat. A child with more severe speech disorder often will have difficulty being understood or uses few sounds and mostly communicate by pulling a parent’s hand to things, may grunt or scream, but often refuses to repeat words when asked.

There are several terminologies out there referring to speech sound disorders. Their terms reflect what are believed to be the cause or causes of this difficulty in children. They are Motor Speech Disorders (muscles involved in speaking), Articulation Difficulties (production of sounds) and Phonology (sound system of a language).

SHOWWhat causes a speech sound disorder?

As mentioned above, there are various terms and factors that may contribute to a speech sound disorder. However, in many cases, the true cause is unknown, and many children exhibiting a speech disorder has no other apparent physical problems or disability.

SHOWCommon contributors to a Speech Sound Disorder:

  • Frequent upper respiratory congestions, especially ear infections or just “glue ears” (fluids accumulated in the ear) during infancy and toddler hood.
  • Hearing Loss
  • Low or high muscle tones (may have overall muscle tone disturbance or just isolated difficulty with fine motor movements such as hands and mouth)
  • Neurological conditions that affect muscle tones and brain learning (cognitive skills) such as Autistic Spectrum Disorders/Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Down Syndromes, and Cerebral Palsy.
  • Premature birth, particularly those with prolonged stay in the Neonatal Intensive Units and had great difficulty with oral feeding.
  • Atypical environment such as being raised in an orphanage or from an abusive/neglect family

In addition to limited speech development and speech clarity, you may also see:

a)      Difficulty or inconsistent responses to his or her own names.
b)      Delayed developmental milestones.
c)      Poor oral feeding (such as very slow or picky eater, does not chew very well), and having trouble learning to lick or blow.
d)     Child may invent own “sign language”, use gestures more than words to communicate.
e)      Child may make lots of sounds and jargons but little recognizable words
f)       Substituting or distortion of sounds (errors may be consistent, but sometimes not).

SHOWWill a child outgrow a speech sound problem?

In general, a child’s speech will usually improve and become clearer as he or she matures. However, for some children, especially those that seem to have oral muscle-based difficulties will require direct treatment to facilitate their development of speech and to improve their clarity. For those children whose speech difficulty appeared mild, some may have other co-existing issue that only manifests itself as the child gets older such as stuttering (their language becomes complex) or difficulty with learning to read (phonological awareness). Also, as a child struggles through learning to talk clearly, there is also social and emotional impact on the child. Hence, when a child seems to have difficulty speaking, it is invaluable that he or she is being assessed by a qualified Speech-Language Pathologist, to determine the overall speech-language development of the child and also to see if speech difficulty is an isolated problem. In short, a child’s speech pattern and system determines the likelihood and quality of his speech development if without intervention.