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Phonological Speech Disorders

A delay with the development of Phonological Awareness is one of the most common reasons that a child has a speech delay.

What is Phonological Awareness? This is the ability to recognise sounds in spoken language. We need these skills to help us understand language and learn to read. We use phonological awareness to pick out the individual words in a spoken sentence. We use it to pick out individual sounds in words that help us to read and write. When we are very young, we are using our phonological awareness skills to hear speech sounds in spoken language and we are learning those sounds so that we can speak. This is a very complex system and explains how a child hears, discriminates, and organises new sounds.

Unfortunately, some children do not develop good phonological awareness skills. This means they will have difficulty picking out the different sounds in the words that they hear. If they cannot pick out these sounds, they will not learn them, and use them in their own speech. When there is a phonological delay or disorder affecting the development of these skills the child may also have an associated difficulty with language and later, literacy learning.

If you believe your child has a phonological disorder it is important to visit your local speech and language pathologist / therapist as soon as possible to discuss speech therapy and the need for some specialist intervention. The speech pathologist / therapist can work with your child and give you exercises and activities to help with their speech development and phonological skills.

Therapy for phonological disorders may differ somewhat to normal articulation therapy. Through the use of a psycho-linguistic assessment the therapist can focus on different areas of the child’s speech and language production and pinpoint areas of difficulty so that they can target our therapy appropriately. Therapy may initially have more activities that encourage the child to listen and discriminate, so that we can develop their awareness of the sounds that they are having difficulty with.

A common example of a phonological awareness difficulty is when a child will consistently replace one sound for another. For instance, the child might use a /t/ sound whenever they say a word containing a /c/ sound e.g. “car” becomes “tar“, and “cat” becomes “tat“. This speech process error is commonly called “fronting” because the child is making the /c/ sound further forward in their mouth. A speech error process on it’s own like this is unlikely to make the child difficult to understand, but many children have a combination of several speech processes and will need specialist help to develop speech normally.



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