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Articulation and Phonology

By: Ela Britchkow, Speech and Language Pathologist


is the science of speech sounds and sound patterns. Every language has rules about how sounds can be combined. If a child does not use the conventional rules for his/her language, but develops his/her own, they may have a phonological disorder. In this case, classes of sounds, rather than single sounds are affected.

Sounds can be classified in three ways: place (where they are produced), how they are produced and whether or not the voice is used. A "phonological process is an unusual rule that is being used and changes the place, manner, or voice of a group of sounds. Some phonological processes are: fronting (tar for car), backing (gog for dog), and gliding (wun for run), and cluster reduction (kool for school) devoicing pet for bed, and stopping (toap/soap).

"Articulation" is the production of speech sounds. Someone with an "articulation disorder is harder to understand because they say sounds incorrectly. There are three basic types of articulation problems, omissions (uh for up), substitutions (thoup for soup), and distortions (slushy /s/ sound).

Adults and children can have articulation problems. Speech sounds are developmental (developmental chart). Some people without the help of speech therapy may not outgrow their speech difficulties and will continue to make speech errors as adults. This can have serious consequences for their relationships and careers. I shudder when comic cartoon characters or comedians assume a speech defect for laughs because of its emotionally damaging impact on real people who have articulation difficulties.

Melissa’s Story

When Melissa was 5 years old, she was diagnosed with an articulation/phonology disorder. She was not producing sounds appropriate at her age. When people outside of her immediate family spoke to her she would just stare at them and not respond verbally. She had learned that when she did try to talk to others she was often greeted with "What did you say?" Other children became frustrated from not understanding her. Short on patience, they tended to be bossier because she did not answer back in her defense. Melissa, shy by nature became more reclusive. She could not vent her feelings with words and held in a lot of anger. At school, she received speech therapy in a group for less than a half hour per week. Melissa did not feel as comfortable there and progress was slow.
Once she started private outside individual speech therapy one hour per week (she still received group therapy at school) the first thing she learned was how to say her name. She practiced over and over and by the following week when someone asked her name she was able to say it clearly. The speech therapist worked on the /f/ sound and how to produce final sounds in words. Melissa’s interest was maintained by engaging her with fun activities related to what she was learning. She particularly liked doing an arts and craft project that involved using her target sound and a variety of game activities. After each speech session she received homework to practice her target sounds. As her articulation skills improved she had the added benefit of being more comfortable socially.

Support for the need of private speech therapy:

Data was collected from the American Speech and Hearing Association’s National Outcome Measurement System (NOMS) on "What affects progress for preschoolers with articulation disorders?" Of the children who received group therapy and who did not complete a structured home program, only 54% showed some measurable progress. 91% of those children who did receive 10 or more hours of individual treatment and who completed a structured home program demonstrated functional improvement in their articulation skills.v
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Apraxia | Articulation | Disorder | Dysarthria | Stuttering | Voice Conditions