When children are first learning to speak, they are not immediately ready to begin saying words exactly like adults. They often create rules to simplify speech sounds and make words easier to say. These rules are called phonological processes. It is much easier for a child to reduplicate “wa” and say “wawa” instead of “water”. Children often create a pattern (phonological process) in which they delete one of the consonants in words that contain blends. The word “mile” is often produced instead of “smile” or “cool” is said instead of “school”.
These processes are very common in young children and are part of the learning process of speaking. The child is not purposefully choosing to use these rules and generally is not even aware that he/she is doing this. There does come a point; however, when children should outgrow using these phonological processes. A Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) is trained in knowing what these typical or common phonological processes are and the expected age in which these processes should disappear. For example, a beginning talker might say “hou” for “house” and “pi” for “pig”. They might say the word “see” and “go” correctly, so there isn’t a concern with the child being able to produce an /s/ or /g/ sound. The child has just developed a pattern of deleting final sounds. If they continue to use this pattern after three years old, however, then they did not outgrow this phonological process and speech therapy intervention may be necessary. SLPs are also familiar with patterns that are not typical. Imagine a child deleting the beginning sound of every word AND the final sound of every word. Most of what the child would try to tell you would not be understood.
The SLP will determine which phonological processes should be addressed first and will use a variety of tools to help the child’s speech become more “adult-like”. The SLP will use a variety of listening tasks so the child can learn to recognize correct versus incorrect productions. With preschool age children, speech production tasks can be incorporated into games, books, music and crafts to make learning these new and correct rules fun! For example, if the goal was to work on eliminating the process of cluster reduction so that two consonants are produced together in a word, the child might have to say the word “spin” before they take his/her turn using the spinner in a game. This could then be expanded to “my spin” or “It’s my turn to spin” to produce these sounds in phrases and then sentences. Songs such as the Itsy Bitsy Spider or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star might be chosen to practice words beginning with s blends (clusters). Reading books or completing crafts with Spot the dog, snow or snowmen could be another fun way to incorporate practice of some of these sounds.
SLPs are a great resource in assessing children to determine if they are demonstrating a phonological process past the age when most children typically would have outgrown this. For those children that need speech therapy, the SLP can develop fun activities to help the child learn the correct pattern when producing sounds in words, sentences and then conversation. If you are concerned about the way your child talks, please call the Delaware Speech and Hearing Center at 740-369-3650 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Rhonda Granger, MA, CCC-SLP, Lead Speech Language Pathologist, Delaware Speech and Hearing Center
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