Headstart for Life

What are Speech Sound Disorders?

Most of us must have heard at one time or other a friend’s child saying “tar” instead of ‘car’ or a child on the bus saying “that car yewo”. And what about Tweety Bird saying “I thought I taw a putty tat”. Do you know anyone with a speech sound disorder (SSD)? Most probably you do. SSD should be resolved by school age (by 5 or 6 years old) although some SSD persists through to adolescence and young adulthood.

A speech sound disorder (SSD) is “a significant delay in the acquisition of articulate speech sounds”. SSD is an umbrella term referring to any combination of difficulties with perception, motor production, and/or the phonological representation of speech sounds and speech segments (rules that govern syllable shape, structure and stress, as well as prosody). These difficulties can affect how well a person is understood by others. So a child who mumbles or deletes sounds in his words (“ephant” instead of “elephant”) or says (“be tee”) instead of the “bird in the tree” has an impact on his speech intelligibility (ASHA, 2010).

The causes of SSD are varied but can include structural differences (e.g. cleft palate), sensory impairments (e.g. hearing loss) or difficulties with the motor aspects of producing speech (apraxia, dysarthria).  These children with SSD are at risks of future academic and socio-emotional difficulties (McCormack, McLeod, McAllister, & Harrison, 2009) and have the best chance of achieving their full potential if they are provided with effective and efficient intervention before starting school. However, some children with SSD, even with intervention, can have persisting difficulties in writing reading and spelling. Thus, the earlier a child receives treatment with speech sound errors, the easier it is to correct the sounds.

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So what can be done to help these children with speech sound disorders?

First, do consult a Speech and Language Therapist. Your Speech and Language Therapist will conduct a comprehensive screening as part of a wider speech and language assessment. The assessment might result in a diagnosis of the speech difficulty, description of the characteristics and severity of the disorder, as well as a referral to another allied health professional.

Your Speech Language Therapist will then select the most appropriate treatment based on the target sounds, facilitating carry over of the sounds at the level of syllables (e.g. “ba” or “ba da”), words (“bob”), phrases (‘big ball’), sentences (“I have big ball”) and conversational speaking (“I played basketball the other day”). Then production of the speech sound will be made more automatic, encouraging awareness of the speech and self correction.

There are many treatment approaches which your Speech and Language Therapist might target based on their professional opinion. These approaches will be explored in later blog posts. Do keep reading to find out more.

"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 Zunaida

Zunaida likes to browse through websites looking for more background information on her favourite topics such as speech difficulties and pragmatic skills disorders. She has more than 10 years of experience working with children with special needs in Singapore.

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