Speech Sound Disorder Basics

Children with speech sound disorder have difficulty forming speech sounds — articulating individual sounds, being understood, modulating speech — and they may stutter or lisp. This guide outlines how speech sound disorder is identified in children and how it's diagnosed and treated.

Speech Sound Disorder: What Is It?

Speech sound disorder is a communication disorder characterized by persistent difficulties in producing speech sounds. It can involve phonological problems (difficulties producing particular sounds or strings of sounds), problems controlling different parts of the vocal apparatus (such as the lungs or larynx), problems with the timing of speech, or difficulties with speech such as stuttering or lisping. Children with speech sound disorder do not have problems understanding language itself. Rather, they have difficulties expressing language in speech sounds at an age-appropriate level.

Speech Sound Disorder: What to Look For

All children shorten and simplify language sounds as they are developing; if a child continues to use immature, simplified speech—omitting or substituting some sounds—when his peers are producing words clearly, he may have speech sound disorder. Additional symptoms include an unusually hoarse, raspy or nasal voice, abrupt changes in the pitch or volume of speech, and running out of air during speaking. In general, if other people, such as teachers and peers, have a difficult time understanding what a child is trying to say, he may have the disorder. Speech sound disorder is usually present from early childhood, though symptoms can be manifest later, as well.

Speech Sound Disorder: Risk Factors

There is evidence that speech sound disorder clusters in families; a child’s risk of having the disorder increases with each family member who has it.

Speech Sound Disorder: Diagnosis

Speech sound disorder is diagnosed when a child’s speech sound production is not what’s expected based on his age and developmental stage. A child who may have the disorder should be evaluated buy a speech and language pathologist, who will administer standardized tests to gage his specific deficits.

Speech Sound Disorder: Treatment

If a child is diagnosed with speech sound disorder, speech therapy is usually helpful. In speech therapy, children learn how to create and differentiate between certain sounds. Certain milder forms of the disorder have been known to disappear spontaneously.

Speech Sound Disorder: Risk For Other Disorders

Because speech sound disorder can affect a child’s ability to interact comfortably with other children and build relationships, the disorder may be complicated by depression and social anxiety.