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Speech Sound Disorder

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Speech Sound Disorder?

upset preschool boySpeech Sound Disorder is a Communication Disorder. Speech problems are often caused by problems with the body's nervous system. The problems between the brain and the nervous system affect the use of language, speech or communication.

Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • ongoing problems with being able to correctly make speech sounds (saying words correctly). These problems make it hard for others to understand them or stop them from being able to accurately share their thoughts.
  • these issues cause problems in school, in talking with others, or both.
  • the symptoms first showed up when the child was 2 to 4 years-old
  • the problems aren't because of conditions that have existed since they were born (congenital) or ones that they got after birth (acquired conditions), such as cerebral palsy, deafness or hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, or other medical or neurological (brain) conditions.

How common is Speech Sound Disorder?

Learning to make sounds correctly and then put those sounds together into words and sentences are skills that children learn over time. There are a lot of differences in how children learn to speak during the early years of life. Delays do not mean that a child who is having problems with saying words will automatically have Speech Sound Disorder.

By the time a child is 3 years old, most will be able to understood by others, even though some words may not be said correctly yet. By age 8, most will be able to say the harder sounds including l, r, s, z, th, ch, dzh, and zh. If a child is having trouble with more than one of these sounds, then they may be diagnosed with Speech Sound Disorder.

With the assistance of speech therapy, most children will be able to overcome the issues and will not have the problems for their whole lives. If a child has both Speech Sound Disorder and Language Disorder, the issues can be much harder to deal with and may continue when they are an adult.

What are the risk factors for Speech Sound Disorder?

Risk factors for this disorder have not yet been identified. However, Speech Sound Disorder or Language Disorder often happen multiple times in families, which seems to suggest that there are genetic issues involved.

What other disorders or conditions often occur with Speech Sound Disorder?

Language Disorder, especially with skills used to communicate information to others, can occur along with this disorder.

How is Speech Sound Disorder treated?

If a parent is worried about how a child's talks, they should start with the child's doctor first. The doctor may suggest that the family talk to a person who is trained to test and treat people with speech or language disorders (a speech-language pathologist). That person will talk about the child's skills and will use special tests. A hearing test is often done because hearing problems can affect learning how to talk.

After the tests are done, they may suggest the parents do things at home to help the child practice and improve in talking and writing, or that the child do individual or group therapy with a counselor to work on their skills.

They may suggest more tests and a check-up by a person trained to identify and measure hearing loss (an audiologist), or a psychologist who is an expert in how children grow and develop.

Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, may also be used to help the child deal with their feelings about the problems that they may be having because of their trouble talking with or understanding other people.