What parents should know about phonological processes

Children learn to speak by imitating the sounds they hear, and typically, they’ll make mistakes along the way. For example, you may hear a child saying  “tat” instead of “cat” (substituting sounds) or “poon” instead of “spoon” (leaving out sounds). Sometimes, children may also shorten words to make them easier to pronounce, like “copter” for “helicopter.”

If you’ve noticed that your child is doing this, you may be wondering, “Is this normal?” or “Should I take my child to see a specialist?” Children can struggle with speech in different ways and it’s normal for parents to have concerns over their child’s articulation. If your child is having trouble pronouncing words, read on to find out why.

What are phonological processes?

Phonological processes refer to the patterns of mistakes or sound errors that are typically made by developing children as they learn to acquire language and talk. These mistakes usually happen because they haven’t developed the ability to coordinate their lips, tongue, teeth, palate and jaw for clear speech. 

The prolonged and excessive use of phonological processes may indicate a phonological disorder, whereby a child has difficulties in organising the patterns of sounds in the brain, resulting in an inability to correctly form the sounds of words.

What do phonological processes sound like?

Phonological processes often sound like the simplification of complex words. While there are many different types of simplifications, here are a few common examples:

Should I be concerned?

While phonological processes are normal in developing children, they should be gradually eliminated as the child grows and are typically gone by the time the child is 8 years old. Here’s a guide on the speech intelligibility levels that can be expected according to a child’s age:

Speech Intelligibility Expectations

While the chart above is applicable for typically-developing children, some children continue to have trouble pronouncing words and speaking clearly even after they’ve reached a certain age.  

When to see a specialist

If you are concerned about your child’s speech intelligibility, or have any concerns at all about your child’s speech development, the best time to see a specialist is as soon as possible, because phonological disorders are an indicator of potential literacy difficulties later on. Early speech intervention has been shown to significantly improve outcomes for children, including relationships, behaviour and success at school.

The Energy Source’s speech and language therapists are ready to support you, and help maximise your child’s potential. They can help to identify the areas your child is struggling with and shed light on what may be causing them. They will also be able to suggest a treatment plan and strategies that can help your child to overcome them.

*This article was reviewed by Stacey Shah, The Energy Source’s Principal Speech and Language Therapist. 

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Joanna Hutt

Director, Principal Physiotherapist and Sensory Practitioner

Hello, my name is Joanna Hutt and I am the founder and managing director at The Energy Source.

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