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What is speech sound disorder?

Speech sound disorder is a communication disorder. Children with speech sound disorder have trouble speaking clearly and making the sounds they need to talk. They might struggle to control their voices or produce specific sounds. Some also have speech problems like stuttering or lisping. Other people often have a hard time understanding what children with speech sound disorder are trying to say. 

Speech sound disorder is different from language disorder. Speech sound disorder only involves problems making sound. Language disorder involves problems using and understanding language in general. Kids with speech sound disorder do not have trouble understanding language.

What are the symptoms of speech sound disorder?

It’s normal for children to use simple or unclear language sounds when they are very young. By around the age of three, most kids speak more clearly. If a child’s speech does not develop as they get older, they might have speech sound disorder. 

Specific signs that a child may have speech sound disorder include: 

  • Trouble moving the jaw, tongue and lips 
  • Struggling to make specific speech sounds 
  • Not speaking as well as other children their age 
  • Not speaking clearly enough for others to understand  
  • Suddenly changing pitch or volume while talking 
  • Hoarse, raspy or nasal voice 
  • Running out of air while speaking 
  • Lisping or stuttering 
  • Having a hard time chewing, blowing their nose, or otherwise using muscles in their face 

Speech sound disorder usually starts in early childhood, but it can also show up later. 

How is speech sound disorder diagnosed?

A speech and language pathologist can use standardized tests to figure out whether a child has speech sound disorder.  Kids are usually diagnosed when the speech sounds they make are much less clear than what’s expected for their age. 

How is speech sound disorder treated?

Speech sound disorder is usually treated with speech therapy. Kids can learn how to create sounds they struggle with and tell the difference between the ones they mix up. In mild cases, the disorder can disappear on its own. 

Risk for other disorders

Children with speech sound disorder may feel uncomfortable talking or playing with other children. In some cases, this can cause depression or social anxiety.

This guide was last reviewed or updated on February 23, 2023.