Developing Speech Sounds

Why is my child having trouble with speech sounds?

When children develop a range of sounds and for those who are able to say the sound by itself but are still getting the hang of using the sound in a word, this is a phonological (speech sound) error pattern. When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of a speech pathologist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as speech sound production.

Mastering speech sounds is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Making sure the child can say the sound by itself (e.g. a child may replace the ‘k’ sound with ‘t’ in every word but can copy the ‘k’ sound after an adult)
  • Developing the child’s listening skills to tell the difference between the correct sound and the sound in error in a set of words targeting the pattern (e.g. a child is consistently removing one sound in a consonant blend in words like star. This child is shown two words that are almost identical but one is correct and one isn’t such as ‘star’ and ‘tar’)
  • Developing the child’s ability to say the words introduced in the set correctly
  • Practising the set words in sentences

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

Model clear speech – Always talk to your child with clear speech and do not copy them when they say something wrong! Look at the resources on our website about recasting and the importance of modelling correct speech sounds. Use a positive, encouraging tone of voice to help your child feel good about communicating. Check out strategies for modelling clear speech at https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/speech/.

Practice the set words every day – In order for the child’s brain to develop correct speech sounds it needs repetitive practise of the correct speech sound patterns. Find resources on our website at https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/speech/.

Use positive language and use prompts to support your child – Some children don’t respond well when their errors are pointed out so using prompts to give them clues about the correct production can support them and encourage them to keep trying even when it gets tough! For example, if your child says ‘tup’ instead of ‘cup’ a simple “hmm?” might be enough for them to correct it themselves. However they might need a bit more help by answering a question “a tup or a cup?”.

How can a speech pathologist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as speech sound production. Speech pathologists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as mastering speech sounds. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards clear speech may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process
  • Developing skills through fun and creative activities
  • Supporting parents to develop their child’s skills at home, school and in the community

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