A phonological disorder is a type of speech sound disorder in which a child uses patterns of sound errors. For example, a child may use a specific error pattern in his/her speech such as changing all “b” sounds to “p” sounds. So, the child would produce “ball” as “pall” and “cab” as “cap”. Specific error patterns, like the one above, are referred to as phonological processes.
While it is appropriate for children to use specific phonological processes in the early years, these error patterns are expected to disappear at certain ages. Oftentimes, overuse of these sound error patterns will make it difficult for parents, other children, and educators to understand your child.
Identifying Phonological Disorders
Some of the most common symptoms experienced by children with phonological disorders include:
- Use of patterns of sound errors (ex. always substituting “p” for “b” or “w” for “l”)
- Having trouble saying multisyllabic words
- Having trouble saying sentences
- Not being understood
Given that developmental speech millstones are only moderately trustworthy, it can be tempting to believe that a phonological disorder will simply go away on its own, or that your child will “grow out of it.” The truth is that seeking early intervention can prevent a phonological disorder from worsening and that there is no harm in bringing your observations to the attention of your child’s pediatrician or speech language pathologist. A simple speech evaluation involving several tests can determine the type and severity of a phonological disorder if one is present. If indeed your child has a phonological disorder, professional speech therapy is necessary, and a qualified speech language pathologist will create a personalized treatment plan to address your child’s specific disorder and circumstance.
Successful treatment for phonological disorders focuses heavily on the increasing a child’s awareness to the speech errors, practicing correct production of sounds by watching the speech therapist’s mouth, using a mirror to watch his/her mouth, and touching of the face and mouth at times to help shape the mouth appropriately.
The goal of speech therapy for children is to enable clearer speech and the confidence necessary to employ their new skills in the context of everyday life.