All about speech sounds

Sometimes it is hard to know when to be concerned about a child's speech and when to "wait and see". Often parents are given different advice by well meaning people such as "boys are slower" or "all kids are different". Often someone will report knowing a child who "didn't talk at all until they were four and now they are fine". Parents are often told not to "compare kids" with others. So how do we know when to be concerned?

Researchers point out the value of early intervention and delayed speech in younger children is known to put kids at greater risk of learning, social and behaviour problems later on. So when is there enough reason to seek support or advice for your child's speech?

Toddlers do vary in the rate at which they develop speech and language skills. Often girls develop somewhat quicker than boys, and the first child in the family may be a little more advanced than their siblings. By the age of two years though there are clear guidelines about when to be concerned. Research shows that by the age of two children who do not use at least 50 words and combine at least two words together into simple phrases are much more likely to have ongoing difficulties if they do not receive support.

Parents often ask "How can you do therapy with a child who is only two?". There are an number of elements to this question.

  • Firstly therapy is not just about what happens in a therapy session, but is also about helping the parent and others in the child's life to support the child's development during the rest of the week. Speech pathologists can work out what the child can do, what they need to learn next and break this down into specific things that parents can do to help the child learn.
  • Secondly clinical experience suggests that younger children often make much quicker progress in therapy than older children particularly with speech sounds as they have not been practicing incorrect patterns for as long as an older child. Also because children's language skills expand rapidly between the ages or two and four years, a two year old has a lot less "catching up to do" than an older child.
  • Thirdly therapy to a young child looks like play!

What about older children who talk but don't sound quite right? Will they just grow out of it? Children develop speech sounds over time and children reach an adult level of speech at around 7 to 8 years. Sound development follows a consistent pattern for most children and most can be understood by strangers by three years of age. If you are concerned about your child’s speech development an assessment by a speech pathologist can tell you if your child needs extra help and what you can do. Speech difficulties can lead to later difficulties with learning and social interaction but professional support can help kids overcome their speech difficulties and avoid later problems.

Typical ages for sounds to develop are:

  • 3 years – m, n, h, p, w, d, g, y, k, f, b, t
  • 4 years – sh, ch, j, l, s
  • 5 years – r, v
  • 6 years – z
  • 8 years – th

An assessment is recommended if your child:

  • Is not using the sounds listed above by the expected age
  • Is hard for parents to understand at age 2 years
  • Is hard for strangers to understand at age 3 years
  • Leaves many sounds off the beginning of words from age 2 years
  • Leaves sounds off the ends of words from 2 ½ years
  • Uses only a few sounds e.g. many sounds replaced with “d” after 2 1/2 years
  • Speech sounds unusual e.g. nasally or slushy

Speech therapy is effective in developing correct speech patterns and early intervention usually means quicker progress.

Here are ten simple things that can make a real difference to speech development, whether you are waiting for an assessment or for speech therapy for your child, are already having some therapy or just want your child to speak more clearly

1. Talk together every day. The more speech your child hears the better their speech will be. Speak clearly and use the correct words for things. Try to find some uninterrupted time and just talk together. Model good talking by speaking slowly and clearly. When you are busy it is easy to talk too quickly. Watch the length of your sentences and try to keep most only a few words longer than your child is using. If your child sepaks in two or three word sentences, using ten or twelve words yourself will mean they won't follow much of what you say.

2. Look after your child’s hearing. Haveyour child's hearing assessed by a qualified audiologist if you are concerned about hearing or speech and always follow up on any ear infections. children with frequent or untreated ear infections are at increased risk of speech, language and later learning problems.

3. Get face to face with your child. Ensure your child can see your face when you are talking to them. When you model tricky words or sounds make sure they can see as well as hear you. Play together on the floor. Get down to their level when talking. Remend them to look at you when you talk and wait until you have their attention.

4. Play games with sounds. During play, encourage sound play using speech sounds. Try car games: car - putt, putt, down a ramp – weeeeeeeee, horn honking - beep, beep; or farm animals: baa, moo, nay, woof. For older children play with ryhming words, stories with alliteration (the same first sound repeated) and tongue twisters.

5. Be realistic. Be aware of the ages children typically develop sounds and what sounds to expect from your child. Typical ages for sounds to develop are: 3 years – m, n, h, p, w, d, g, y, k, f, b, t; 4 years – sh, ch, j, l, s; 5 years – r, v; 6 years – z; 8 years – th

6. Listen to what your child says not just how they say it. The main reason we speak is to communicate an idea. Make sure you listen to what your child is saying and respond to that. A child who feels listened to and heard will communicate more.

7. Be positive. Use lots of encouragement and tell your child what they have done well. Use specific words. “I like the way you used your words to ask for that”. “I like the way you tried that new tricky word”. “You tried to fix that /s/ sound, well done”

8. Recast your child’s errors. If your child makes a mistake when talking, repeat what they say, fixing the mistake to show them the right way. Use a positive tone and repeat it a few times but keep it natural. E.g. Child “I see a shish”. Adult “Yes a fish, I see the fish too, a pretty fish”.

9. Model new words with tricky sounds. Look at books and play games that allow you to teach your child new words with sounds your child finds tricky.

10. Practice tricky words. If there are important words your child has difficulty with, such as names of family members or other important people, or things that they like to talk about often, give these some extra practice. Make a list of three to five only and put them on the fridge. Add a picture for each if your child can’t read. Say each word clearly for your child and ask them to try and copy you. Try each word a couple of times per day and praise your child for trying and for getting clearer.

For more information about speech and language development visit the downloads section of Our website. If you are concerned about your child's speech or language development visit theTalking Matters website to see how speech pathology can help.

We currently have appointments available immediately for speech pathology assessments and therapy in our office in Northern Adelaide and therapy sessions in local schools. browse our website or call us on (08) 8255 7137 to find out more.

For more ideas and resources for developing children's speech, language, learning and social skills check our extensive Pinterest page. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter so you don't miss out on what's happening.

Jo Brenecki

Speech Pathologist

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