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There is a lot of confusion surrounding phonological disorders and articulation disorders. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but they are actually two very different things. We will take a closer look at these two types of speech sound disorders and how phonological and articulation therapy can help.
Speech Sound Disorders
Speech Sound disorder is an umbrella term that includes both phonological disorders and articulation disorders. Phonological disorder is a type of speech sound disorder where there is an impairment in the way sounds are made and put together to form words.
Articulation disorder, on the other hand, is a type of speech sound disorder where there is difficulty making specific sounds correctly. These can be singular speech sounds such as /s/, /r/, /k/, /l/, etc. Or it can involve blends, such as /s/ blends, like "sled", "stop", "skate", etc. In some cases, for example, /k/ sound speech therapy might be needed if a child isn't producing /k/ by the time they are a certain age.
Speech sound therapy can be very beneficial, especially when started early! Now that we have defined phonological disorders and articulation disorders, let’s take a closer look at each one.
What is a Phonological Disorder?
Phonological Disorder is a disorder in which a person has difficulty producing the sounds of their native language. Each language has a specific set of sounds that are used to form words. Each language also has rules and speech patterns that dictate how those sounds are put together to form words. People with phonological disorders have difficulty following these rules and patterns.
Types of Phonological Processes
Phonological processes are the patterns that people with phonological disorders use to simplify speech. Phonological processes are normal in young children as they are learning to talk.
Most children outgrow phonological processes by the time they reach school age. However, some children continue to use phonological processes into adulthood. The list below is some of the more common phonological processes.
This is when a sound is replaced with another sound. There are different types of phonological processes under substitution such as :
Backing: This is when a sound is made further back in the mouth than it should be. For example, the sound /d/ may be replaced with /g/.
Fronting: This is when a sound is made further forward in the mouth than it should be. For example, the sound /k/ may be replaced with /t/.
Gliding: This is when a liquid is replaced with a glide. For example, the sound /r/ may be replaced with /w/. Gliding speech therapy can be very effective in improving intelligibility.
Stopping: This is when a fricative is substituted with a stop. For example, the sound /f/ may be replaced with /p/.
Affrication: This is when a stop is replaced with an affricate. For example, the sound /t/ may be replaced with /ch/.
Deaffrication: This is when an affricate is replaced with a fricative or a stop. For example, the sound /ch/ may be replaced with /t/.
This is when a sound changes to become more like another sound that is next to it. Assimilation speech therapy is often implemented if this process does not correct itself with age. There are different types of phonological processes under assimilation:
Final Consonant Devoicing: This is when a final consonant is replaced with its voiceless counterpart. For example, the sound /b/ may be replaced with /p/.
Reduplication: This is when a syllable or word is repeated. For example, the word “car” may be reduplicated to form “caca”.
Prevocalic Voicing: This is when a sound is made with the vocal cords before it should be. For example, the sound /p/ may be replaced with /b/.
Assimilation: This is when a sound is replaced with another sound that is similar. For example, the sound /m/ may be replaced with /n/.
Denasalization: This is when a nasal sound is replaced with a non-nasal consonant. For example, the sound /n/ may be replaced with /t/.
Coalescence: This is when two sounds are replaced with one sound. For example, the sounds /s/ and /t/ for the word “stop” may be replaced with the sound /f/ to form “fap.”
This is when a syllable is simplified by deleting a sound or combining two sounds. There are types of phonological processes under syllable structure:
Final Consonant Deletion: This is when a final consonant is omitted. For example, the word “cat” may be pronounced as “ca.”
Initial Consonant Deletion: This is when an initial consonant is omitted. For example, the word “dog” may be pronounced as “og.”
Cluster Reduction: This is when a consonant cluster is reduced. For example, the word “splash” may be pronounced as “spash.” Cluster reduction speech therapy may be necessary if the process persists.
Weak Syllable Deletion: This is when a syllable is omitted. For example, the word “banana” may be pronounced as “nana.”
Epenthesis: This is when a sound is inserted into a word. For example, the word “flower” may be pronounced as “fuhlower.”
What is an Articulation Disorder?
An articulation disorder is a type of speech sound disorder where there is difficulty making specific sounds correctly due to muscle weakness or paralysis. The sounds may be mispronounced, omitted, or added. Articulation disorders in speech can make it difficult for others to understand what the person is saying. Sometimes these disorders are present due to issues at birth (i.e., the need for tongue tie speech therapy), it may be acquired, or there may be no known cause for an articulation disorder.
Types of Articulation Errors
Articulation errors are classified by how the sound is produced in the mouth. The place of articulation is determined by the movement of the tongue, lips, and teeth.
There are four main types of articulation errors. To remember it easily, we can think of it as S-O-D-A.
Substitution: This is a speech when one sound is replaced with another sound. For example, saying “tat” for “cat” or “wabbit” for “rabbit”. In the case of the second example, /r/ sound speech therapy is typically a focus in older children, as it is a later sound to develop and be mastered. However, some therapists may choose to focus on it with younger children, depending on the norms being used.
Omission: This is when a sound is left out. For example, saying “bu” for “bus” or “te” for “ten”.
Distortion: This is when a sound is changed or distorted. For example, saying “thuh” for “sun” or “shoe” as “suh”.
Addition: This is when an extra sound is added. For example, saying “spiderman” as “spidiman” or “April” as “Aperl”.
When is it Considered a Disorder?
If the phonological patterns and articulation errors happen frequently and are not age-appropriate, it may be considered a disorder. It is also considered a disorder if the errors interfere with daily activities such as school, work, or social interactions.
If you’re unsure whether your child’s speech sounds are normal or not, it’s best to consult with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and to receive a speech evaluation. A speech therapy evaluation can give many indications of what treatment will look like and whether or not a disorder is present.
Phonological Disorder vs Articulation Disorder
Research by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has shown that phonological disorders are the most common type of speech sound disorder, followed by articulation disorders.
So, what is the difference between phonological disorder and articulation disorder? The main difference is that phonological disorders are a problem with the sound system of a language, while articulation disorders are a problem with the physical production of speech sounds that result in articulation errors.
While phonological and articulation disorders can both be difficult to deal with, it is important to understand the difference between them in order to get the best possible treatment.
Causes of Speech Sound Disorders
There are no known definite causes of phonological or articulation disorders. However, some risk factors have been associated with an increased likelihood of developing a speech sound disorder, such as:
Family history: If there is a family member with a speech sound disorder, you are more likely to develop one as well.
Gender: Boys are more likely than girls to develop a speech sound disorder.
Hearing loss: If you have a hearing loss, you are more likely to develop a speech sound disorder since you may have difficulty understanding the different characteristics of each speech sound.
Cognitive or developmental disabilities: If you have a cognitive or developmental disability, you may be more likely to develop a speech sound disorder.
Brain injury: Acquired phonological disorders are more common in adults who have had a stroke or other brain injury due to damage to the areas of the brain responsible for speech and language.
Physical impairments: If you have a physical impairment that affects your speech production, such as cleft palate or cerebral palsy, you are more likely to develop a speech sound disorder.
How do I Know if My Child Has a Speech Sound Disorder?
If you are worried that your child may have a speech sound disorder, there are some signs to look out for.
Does your child have trouble saying certain sounds? (e.g. “s”, “r”, “th”)
Does your child often omit, substitute, or distort sounds when speaking? (e.g. saying “tat” for “cat”)
Does your child’s speech sound unclear or hard to understand? (e.g. people often ask your child to repeat themselves)
If you answer yes to any of these questions, it is best to consult with a speech-language pathologist.
Can I Prevent Speech Sound Disorders?
The best way to prevent speech sound disorders is to make sure your child is exposed to a lot of different sounds and has opportunities to practice them. You can do this by reading to your child, singing songs, and playing games that involve sound and movement.
It is also important to make sure your child gets regular hearing screenings so that any problems can be caught early on.
Treatment for Speech Sound Disorders
The good news is that there are many different ways to treat speech sound disorders! The type of treatment will depend on the individual and the severity of the disorder. Since the population most affected by speech sound disorders is typically children, it is, in may cases considered to be pediatric speech therapy. Some common treatments in the realm of pediatric speech therapy for speech sound disorders include:
This involves working on specific sounds that are mispronounced may it be in isolation, in words, or in sentences. The therapist will help the person to learn how to make the sound correctly through functional oral motor exercises and practice.
For instance, if your child has a hard time producing the sound /s/, the therapist will help them to first produce the sound by itself by explaining how to make the sound using correct tongue placement. Once they have mastered creating the sound, they will then move on to words (e.g. “ssssnake”), and then to sentences (e.g. “The snake hissed”).
There are some fun games you can do at home to improve your child’s articulation.
Unlike articulation speech therapy, this involves working on the sound system of a language. The therapist will help the person to learn the rules of phonology and how to apply them through drills and practice.
For example, the Minimal Pair Approach by Baker (2010) is a phonological intervention that uses minimal pairs to help the person learn phonemic awareness.
Minimal pairs are two words that differ by one phoneme are two words that differ by only one sound (e.g. “bat” and “pat”). If your child has a hard time distinguishing between the sounds /b/ and /p/, the therapist will help them to first identify when they hear the sound by itself. Once they have mastered this, they will move on to minimal pairs (e.g. “Is that a bat or a pat?”).
Both phonology and articulation therapy involves a lot of practice so that the person can learn to produce the sounds correctly and automatically. With time and practice, most people with speech sound disorders can improve their speech to be clear and easy to understand!
Augmentative and alternative communication
This involves using devices or methods to help a person communicate. For example, a person may use sign language or picture boards. This is usually used in addition to speech therapy to aid in communication. It can also be used as an auditory feedback system to help a person produce the correct sound.
Speech sound disorders are common, and there are many different types.
The main difference between phonological disorder and articulation disorder is that phonological disorders are problems with the sound system. In contrast, articulation disorders are a problem with the physical production of speech sounds that result in articulation errors.
Common treatments include articulation therapy, phonology therapy, and augmentative and alternative communication.
Speech therapy is not a quick fix, and it takes time and practice to see results. However, with the help of a speech-language pathologist, most people with speech sound disorders can improve their speech!
With proper treatment, most people with speech sound disorders can improve their ability to communicate effectively! If you think your child may have a speech sound disorder, it is essential to consult with a speech-language pathologist. They will be able to help you figure out what type of disorder it is and how to best treat it.
Do you think you or your child may have a speech sound disorder? If so, don’t hesitate to contact a speech-language pathologist for help! At Better Speech, we offer online speech therapy services convenient for you and tailored to your child's individual needs. Our services are affordable and effective - get Better Speech now.
About the Author
I am a Speech-Language Pathologist with 14 years of experience working with children and adults who have communication difficulties. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science at Cebu Doctors' University and have been helping people overcome their communication challenges ever since.
I have worked with individuals of different ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, adults and seniors. I'm passionate about speech therapy and take great satisfaction in helping people overcome their communication challenges and improve their lives through better communication skills. In my spare time I like reading books, going hiking in nature and taking care of my dog Locas.