Why is my child’s speech not easy to understand?

Many parents contact me as they are worried about that their child’s speech is not easy to understand. Many children go through a phase of substituting sounds and then they gradually learn to use the correct sound in the correct place.

However, there is a large number of children that continue to struggle with sound productions in many position of the words. The biggest questions remain: “Why do children have difficulties producing sounds?

There can be difficulties with:

  • Muscles used to create different sounds. This can be due to muscle weakness and may be linked to difficulties like cerebral palsy.
  • Sending messages from the brain to make different speech sounds. This may sometimes be described as ‘dyspraxia’.
  • Learning and using different sounds to make words. This can be called ‘phonological difficulties’.

Here are some explanations about all the different terminology about speech sounds.

  • Phonological difficulties (difficulties with sounds): Most children follow a similar pattern in learning sounds. Some children have difficulty in learning and using sounds in the right places for words.
  • Young children with phonological difficulties: During pre-school years, children will learn lots of different sounds. They will also learn how to organise these sounds into words.
  • Phonological delay: Phonological delay is used when a child has patterns of speech which are more typical of a younger child. The sound system is developing normally, but at a much slower rate than expected.
  • Phonological disorder: Phonological disorder will involve some delay, but also the use of phonological processes that are atypical, inconsistent or not following the expected pattern of phonological development. This is likely to make the child less clear, will be more persistent and require specialist support.
  • Apraxia of speech: Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder that first becomes apparent as a young child is learning speech. For reasons not yet fully understood, children with apraxia of speech have great difficulty planning and producing the precise, highly refined and specific series of movements of the tongue, lips, jaw and palate that are necessary for intelligible speech.  Click here for more on CAS 
  • Primary-aged children with phonological difficulties: Usually, most children will be using a full range of speech sounds by the time they are 5 years. Some children however, will have difficulty in developing these skills. Primary-aged children may be experiencing difficulties if they:
      • Only use a small number of sounds.
      • Are swapping one sound for another e.g saying ‘tat’ instead of ‘cat’.
      • Are missing the ends off words.
      • Have difficulty with vowel sounds e.g. saying ‘poor’ instead of ‘pear’ or ‘pot’ instead of ‘pat’.
      • Have difficulty with long or complicated words like ‘banana’ or ‘aeroplane’.

Good sound skills are needed when learning to talk. They are also important for developing reading and spelling.

Click here for advice on how to support your child’s speech

Speech Sound Development Advice Sheet

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