[Below is a transcript of the podcast]
My name is Debra Fenton I am the owner of Lowry’s Speech and Occupational Therapy here in Denver Colorado. I am a speech-language pathologist and have been practicing for almost 25 years now. Today I’m going to be talking about some of the common questions I get from parents when they call in to inquire about concerns with their children.
One of the most common questions we get is: When should I be concerned about my child’s speech or articulation development? There are definitely developmental ages and stages for speech sounds. It is very normal for kids to have difficulty producing certain sounds at certain ages. We do have a few rules of thumb that we follow when we try to determine if a child requires some additional support. Starting with the toddler age, what we’d like to see certainly by one year of age is that a child is producing lots of sounds, lots of consonants, usually, we call them reduplicative syllables: “Ba-ba-ba, ma-ma-ma,” those types of sounds and also beginning to say some first words. So the first rule of thumb is first words by first birthday.
The next rule of thumb is during that first year we want to see the child starting to combine some words and having some 2-word combinations. So by two years, the rule is: combining two words. There is a huge explosion in speech and language development between the ages of 2 and 3 and that’s when we start to look more carefully at a child’s articulation and sound development. We want to hear increasing clarity when they speak. We want to hear them putting the ending sounds on words. So instead of saying “Ma,” we want them saying “Mom” and actually finishing those syllables, like “Cat.” You know there are some patterns that children use to simplify words which is completely fine at this age. We would like most people in the immediate family and about 50 percent of people outside the immediate family understanding what the child is saying. If the immediate family is not understanding most of what their child is saying by the age of three then we would certainly recommend a consult with a speech and language pathologist.
Certainly, by 3, we’d like to see the child being understood outside in the community about 70 percent of the time. So most of what a child says should be understood by an unfamiliar listener. At this age, we talk about certain groups of sounds, for example, the “R” sound, the “L” sound, the “TH” sound, those are the latest developing sounds of a sound sequence but we would like a child to be producing K’s and G’s. A lot of young children have difficulty using the back of their mouth and they may say something like “dod” for “dog” or “do” for “go.” And certainly by between the ages of 3 and 4 we’d like to see them be able to execute that motor sequence and saying those sounds with consistency in their conversation. Around the age of 5, we would like to see a child producing “L,” producing all of their consonant blends, certainly not having too many grammatical errors. A child who has difficulty using grammar in their speech could be a sign of some delays in their actual language development which is different from their sound development. These are two different systems.
The upper end for articulation development is by 7, every error should be remediated and speech should be really perfectly clear. There is little wiggle room between the ages of 6 and 7 for the “R” sound to come in and the “TH” sound, but by 7 that’s the upper end of the cutoff. If a child is not making all of these sounds by seven, then a referral for a speech therapy is typically indicated.
Another question we get is a lot of children go through orthodontic treatment as they progress into the elementary and upper elementary years. Typically, braces do not interfere with speech development. So a child who has braces should still pretty much be producing all of their sounds pretty clearly. Braces would not hold up a child’s ability to develop the “R” sound. I get that a lot: “My child can’t say “R” because they have braces,” and generally that’s not the case. Also,missing teeth don’t really impede each sound development. It may distort things slightly when the teeth first come out but a child should be able to produce all sounds even if they have missing teeth.
So in looking at a child’s speech and language development certainly their sound development should be fully developed by the age of seven years. If there are still residual errors, then additional support might be needed. Children do grow out of sounds but there are certain cut-offs at certain ages for those sounds. More information can be found on our website. We have charts that show the different sounds and ages that come in. Our website is www.lowrystot.com. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today. Thanks so much for listening.