Supporting your child with Speech Sound Difficulties

Children with speech sound difficulties can sometimes be hard to understand, especially if their difficulties affect several sounds or groups of sounds. They may substitute sounds (change a sound to another like tat for cat), leave sounds out (like “amma” for grandma) or add sounds (like “balek” for bike). This can cause them a lot of frustration, especially if they have to repeat themselves constantly. Sometimes speech sound disorders are Functional (it means do not have a known cause), however, they can also be organic (developmental or acquired) such as in hearing loss, apraxia, cleft palate…

It is very normal for young children to change sounds or leave some out when talking. However, if these errors continue to exist as the child gets older, you need to seek professional advice. Children with speech sound disorders are usually not very good at correcting themselves, mostly because it is hard for them to monitor their own speech. 

You can download this English & Arabic speech sound development chart if you want to know when most of the English speaking and Arabic speaking children develop their speech sounds in both languages. Keep in mind that children who are multilingual may develop these sounds earlier or later.

The strategies and activities listed below can be used in order to encourage the development of self-monitoring and the ability to revise and repair.

  1. Model Self-Corrections.

You might say to your child, “It is too wet to mow the yawn…uh oh…I mean ‘lawn’.” Here, you said yawn first, then quickly fixed it and said lawn. You will show your child that it is ok to mispronounce words and that they can always try to correct their speech

articulation disorder
  1. Use Labelled Praise.

Using labelled praise is a way of praising in a specific context. Labelled praise can be used for reinforcing clear speech attempts, and to encourage children to make revisions and repairs spontaneously.

Adult: What’s your favorite color?

Child: Bat.

Adult: Hmm?

Child: Berlat.

Adult: I like the way you fixed yourself, that sounded more like black, right?

  1. Be positive about your child’s speech and show interest in what they are speaking instead of how correctly they can say the sounds in each word they speak. You might then want to comment positively like saying “Oh, I love how you built your sand castle at the park”. And if what you’re working on is the sound ‘p’ at the beginning of a word you might add “it’s fun at the Park” to model a correct pronunciation of the sound ‘p’.
  1. Encourage your child to use their listening skills. This is crucial in improving and developing their speech sounds. For example, on a walk in the forest you might say “did you hear this bird chirping loudly? does he go ‘tweet tweet’ or ‘kee kee’?”. This is how you will help him pay attention and discriminate between sounds in an interesting familiar activity. You can also play listening games such as being quiet and saying what you can hear, like Simon Says (copying the sounds you hear or making noises that your child can imitate).
A speech and language pathologist (SLP) can test your child to decide if he/she needs professional intervention. The SLP will observe and assess how your child talks, moves his jaw, lips and mouth to produce sounds. The SLP may also assess your child’s language skills because many children who have speech sound difficulties or disorders may also have language concerns like telling stories and following directions.

You can always support your child’s language development by applying language techniques in your everyday interaction with your child. If you want to know more on how to help your child build his vocabulary and improve his language on a daily basis, check my ebook “A Healthy Approach to a Better Communication – Helping your child TALK” that will give you practical examples to follow when interacting with your child.

References: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.) Speech Sound Disorders: Articulation and Phonology. (Practice Portal). Retrieved August, 13, 2022, from

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