Headstart for Life

Typical vs Atypical Speech Sound Development

According to American Speech- Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), speech is the verbal means of communicating. It consists of the following:

Articulation – how speech sounds are made (e.g., children must learn how to produce the “r” sound in order to say “rabbit” instead of “wabbit”).

Voice – use of the vocal folds and breathing to produce sound (e.g., the voice can be abused from overuse or misuse and can lead to hoarseness or loss of voice).

Fluency – the rhythm of speech (e.g., hesitations or stuttering can affect fluency).

Children acquire new sounds as they grow. A child as young as 3 months, is able to cry differently to communicate his needs. By 6 months, he is starting to babble speech – like with many different sounds including p, b, and m. By 9 months, his babbling has both long and short groups of sounds such as “tata upup bibibibi”. And as he hears new sounds, he starts to combine them forming meaningful words to communicate.

What is a “typical” speech sound development?

Through the course of child development, it is important as parents to understand the typical development of speech sounds. However, there are several speech sound developmental milestones out there and they vary from one culture to another. This implies that there is no telling whether your child should have acquired or mastered a specific set of sounds at a certain age. So, to expect a child to use a certain sound 100% of the time at a particular age is too much of a goal. There is a wide range of  “typical speech sound development”, which can also be affected by culture and bilingualism.

Having said that, it is still important to use these set of norms as a guide to understand your child’s speech development and to decide whether he needs help from a speech therapist.

The most commonly used speech norms is from Goldman Fristoe Test of Articulation 2, GFTA-2, (2000).



How do I know if my child’s speech sound development is “atypical”?

As mentioned earlier, the norms above serves as a guide to tell whether your child’s speech is developing accordingly. Most children makes mistakes when they are learning new sounds or words. Children simplify adult speech as they learn to talk. This is called phonological processes. This is normal. However, if mistakes persist beyond the  expected age of acquisition and that speech intelligibility is greatly compromise, it is worth noting to seek consult from a speech therapist.

Other notable red flags for your child’s speech sound development are as follows:

  • Missing vowel sounds or significant errors made in producing vowels by age 3. Children starts to master the production of vowels (eg. a, o, u, i, e) by age 2. By their third birthday, all vowels would have been mastered.
  • Consistent omission of initial consonants of words by the age of 3. For example, “ar” for “car”“unny” for “bunny”. It is acceptable to have such errors by age of 2 years. However, by age of 3, a child is expected to be able to say a wide repertoire of consonants at the beginning of a word.
  • Persistent substitution of back sounds such as /k, g/ by other consonant sounds even after the age of 4. For example, “tootie” for “cookie” or “tat” for “cat”.
  • Deletion of final consonants in words that persists beyond the age of 3 years. For example, “cu” for “cup”, “co” for “comb” or “ha” for “hat”.
  • Child’s speech is not understood by most people including family members, teachers and peers by 4 years. It is important to note how clear your child speak as he grows. By the age of 3 years, a child’s speech should be intelligible at least 75% of the time.

Again, these are only guidelines. These serve as additional information for you to decide whether your child needs speech therapy to help correct his speech errors. Always remember that all children undergo through a stage whereby speech errors are more prominent. However, these errors start to disappear as he grows older. It is always good to seek professional consult with a speech therapist should you suspect your child may have speech errors.



American Association of Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Speech Development. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/language_speech/

Goldman Fristoe Test of Articulation, 2nd Edition, 2000

Photo Articulation Test, 1969, Pendergast et al, and Stoel-Gammon, 1985

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Jona

Jona has a passion in educating and empowering parents and families of children of all abilities to be part of the social community. She has been working with children with special needs for more than 10 years and has special involvement in the intervention of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and apraxia/dyspraxia of speech.

Leave a Reply