Better Care

Speech Sound Disorder

Speech sound disorder is a term used to cover a range of difficulties that some children have with their speech (pronunciation of sounds in words). You may have heard of other terms being used to describe these difficulties including speech delay, speech impairment, articulation difficulty and verbal dyspraxia.

Speech sounds develop gradually over time, some sounds are developed earlier (like ‘m’ and ‘b’) and some develop later (like ‘ch’ and ‘th’). Children vary in the way that they develop speech and some naturally take longer than others. Younger children will produce speech that is different to adult speech, but this may be within the normal range, depending on their age and which sounds they are having problems with.

Children with speech sound disorders have patterns of errors in their speech and it may be difficult to understand what they are saying. They might remove (or add) a sound in a word, or they might use a different sound in place of a sound they cannot say. Some error patterns occur naturally in typically developing young children as they learn to use more complex speech sounds. Some children continue to show these error patterns as they get older (often labelled as speech delay), and some children have error patterns that are not typically seen in younger children (often labelled as speech disorder).

There is no single cause of speech disorders and their presence does not mean that the child has any other difficulties, although they can sometime occur alongside hearing and language difficulties.

There can be variations in how adults produce speech as well and the ‘errors’ which some children make in their speech might be more accurately described as a speech difference, rather than a speech difficulty, depending on whether they can make themselves understood to others.   

If you are concerned that your child has a speech sound disorder, please make a referral to speech and language therapy.

Role of speech and language therapy

Speech and language therapy aims to:

  • identify whether your child’s speech errors are typical for their age or not
  • diagnose the type of speech sound disorder
  • decide alongside parents whether the child needs or would benefit from therapy
  • provide appropriate intervention and/or give advice where the child does not meet the service criteria.

What can you do to help?

When speaking to a child with a speech sound disorder:

  • focus on what the child is saying rather than how they are saying it
  • don’t pretend to understand (often they can tell because we’ve given the wrong kind of response)
  • if you haven’t understood, ask if they can show you / act it out / give a clue
  • if you’ve understood part of it, repeat that bit back to check you’re right and ask for clarification on the parts you didn’t understand
  • model (say) the word back to the child correctly so they can hear how you would say it, but don’t ask them to repeat it after you as they may not be able to yet.

For children who attend school or pre-school/nursery settings, it can be a good idea to set up a home-school diary so that parents can include information about what has happened over the weekend / names of important people etc. so that staff can have some clues about what the child may be talking about. Staff can also give updates about what the child has done in their day so parents can understand when the child gets home. This can help to give a context and potentially limit frustration.

Please click on the links below for further advice and recommended activities to support the development of speech sounds:



Introduction to SLT for speech difficulties