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Speech Sounds Disorders and Problems with Reading

Speech and Language Therapy Staff
October 31, 2018

Most children who struggle with reading are those with a history of speech sound disorders (SSD). In addition to having difficulty saying the speech sounds of the language, children with SSD need more time to process speech sounds and tend to have difficulty identifying and manipulating them, important aspects of phonological awareness.

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When it comes to learning to read, children with SSD have difficulty decoding words because they do not have mental representations of how to make the associated sounds for the symbols of the alphabet. Learning to read, for these children, starts with learning to make speech sound distinctions and recognizing patterns in the words they hear.

What is a speech sound disorder?

A speech sound disorder (SSD) is a broad classification of disorders affecting a child’s (or adult’s) ability to communicate. Though all children make mistakes when learning new words and sounds, a disorder occurs when the child reaches a certain age and is still making certain mistakes. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help treat and possibly cure SSDs.

Types of speech sound disorders

The two main types of SSDs are articulation and phonological disorders.

Articulation Disorder

Articulation disorders are characterized by substitution, distortion, omission or addition of sounds in words. A child with an articulation disorder will have difficulty learning how to physically produce certain sounds. One of the more common articulation problems is the inability for a child to produce the “r” sound. The “r” is often substituted with “w,” like saying “twee,” instead of “tree.” A lisp also is a common articulation distortion.

An SLP can teach a patient new ways to produce sounds (for example, changing the placement of the tongue when making certain sounds). Sounds in different words are practiced in repetition, until they become natural for the speaker.

Phonological Processes Disorder

Phonological process disorder is marked by a set pattern of sound errors. A child with a phonological process disorder will have difficulties learning the sound system. He or she may not realize that certain different sounds have different meanings. A common example is replacing the “d” sound with a “g”; saying “dot,” for example, instead of “got.” Children with this disorder may be able to hear the sound distinction in other peoples’ voices, but be unaware when they make the distortion.

An SLP will design a program involving studying and repeating words that differ only by one sound to indicate how different sounds signify different meanings. The suggested exercises will generalize age-appropriate phonological patterns.

Causes of speech sound disorder

In many cases, the reason that speech sound disorders occur is unknown, but recent research has shown that weaknesses in phonological awareness and word reading demonstrated by children with SSDs could be at least partially explained by their difficulties with phonological representation, implicating the brain’s auditory processing system.

Does my child need help?

Many children outgrow the problem, but those who cannot learn to produce sounds correctly, or do not learn the rules of speech on their own, need intervention. A speech evaluation by an SLP will help decide if the child if the child will outgrow the problem. There are many factors which will help decide if a child is in need of therapy. One important consideration is the child’s degree of unintelligibility and how it restricts him from communicating with his family and peers. A very verbal child who is difficult to understand can often feel frustrated and may respond by withdrawing from the effort of communication.

At CSLOT, we believe it is critical for our SLPs to provide interventions that comprehensively integrate training in speech perception, speech production, phonological awareness, phonics, and direct reading instruction.

Your child’s SLP will support your child’s auditory processing in the area of phonemic awareness by teaching your child how to play with sounds in words, manipulating and changing them in many ways, while speech therapy will show your child how to produce the speech sounds correctly.

Are you concerned about your child’s reading development? Contact us today to make an appointment for a reading evaluation.

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