Difficulties with speech sounds:

what are the causes?


Who doesn’t love the way children speak?

From their first words until around the age of three, it is normal for children to simplify words and make some pronunciation errors, especially with more difficult words.

Although this is common in the first few years of life, these sound simplifications and substitutions usually regress on their own as the child grows and becomes more familiar with speech sounds.

A 4-5-year-old child should be able to pronounce almost all of the sounds of the English language, with the exception of the more difficult sounds such as “R” and consonant clusters (“SP”, “PR”, etc.)

However, in some cases, these difficulties pronouncing sounds can last longer, even until adulthood, making someone’s language less understandable.

In this case, they are referred to as Speech Impairments.


What are the root causes of these problems?


Speech impairment can be caused by several factors. In general, it can have Organic or Functional causes.


Organic Causes

Speech difficulties can be caused by problems with tongue, lips and palate.

These are some of the organs that help transform the air exiting the lungs into sounds.

  • The lips form the sounds P, B, F, V.
  • The tongue contributes to a variety of sounds including T, D, S, SH.
  • The soft palate, in collaboration with the lips and tongue, produces the sounds M and N.

If one or more of these organs is altered, for example due to a cleft lip or palate, a malformation or alteration of the dental bite, a tongue tie, or simply a reduction in muscle tone of the tongue, lips and palatine veil, the sounds will not be able to be produced correctly.

These speech impairments can be called “articulation difficulties”.


Functional Causes

However, speech impairment can occur in children who have normal lips, tongue, and palate.

In these cases, the child may substitute one phoneme for another or omit a phoneme because they cannot distinguish the two sounds.

An example of this could be the case of children who say “Tat” instead of “Cat”, or “Dod” instead of “Dog”.

In this case, the child has substituted the sound T for the sound C and uses only the phoneme T to pronounce both sounds.

One of the possible causes of this sound replacement could be hearing loss in the first years of life, caused by recurrent ear infections and accumulation of fluid in the middle ear.

The hearing loss does not allow the child to hear and learn the difference between those two sounds and may lead to the child using the simpler sound when they have to pronounce it.

These speech impairments can be called “phonetic-phonological disorders”.


What can I do to correct speech errors?


When faced with speech impairment, it is very difficult to understand what the causes of the difficulty are.

The best thing to do, therefore, if you are worried about the development of your child’s speech sounds, is to contact a specialist: A Speech and Language Therapist, who in a multidisciplinary team, that is to say with the help of the ENT, the audiologist, or the orthodontist, will be able to diagnose any articulation or phonological disorder.

After treating the underlying cause of the disorder (for example, a tongue tie or glue ear), the Speech and Language Therapist can intervene on the speech sounds to reverse these difficulties as quickly as possible.

I hope I managed to explain what a speech impairment is; however, if you require further clarification, please contact me here!