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Happy Kids with Books

Speech and Language Definitions

Articulation and Phonological Disorders 

What are they?

Both articulation and phonology refer to the physiological production of speech sounds, i.e. the individual sounds in speech, not the meaning and content of speech. When a child presents with either an articulation disorder or a phonological disorder they are often difficult to understand.



Articulation is a general term which refers to the production of individual sounds. The production of sounds involves the coordinated movements of the lips, tongue, teeth & palate and respiratory system. This includes a variety of nerves and muscles used for speech production.  All speech sounds (phonemes) are acquired in a predictable developmental order.  An articulation disorder refers to a child who has difficulty producing and forming particular speech sounds correctly e.g. lisping or not being able to produce a particular sound e.g. "r". These disorders are generally very specific in nature and require therapy from a trained speech pathologist.  Often children are labeled as having an articulation disorder when in actual fact they have a phonological disorder (refer below) or even dyspraxia. This can often effect the treatment or outcomes of a child's therapy.


Phonology / Phonological disorders

Phonology refers to the pattern in which sounds are strung together to produce words. This means that a child can produce a sound correctly but may use it in the incorrect position in a word e.g. a child always use "d" sound for the "g" sound i.e. "doe" for "go". Phonological processes generally simplify sounds or sound sequences such as syllables and words.  Phonological disorders may have a far greater impact on a child's intelligibility than pure articulation disorders as the child may confuse several phonological rules.  Phonological disorders and phonemic awareness disorders (the understanding of sounds and sound rules in words) have been linked to on - going language and literacy difficulties. It is therefore important to correctly assess a child's speech difficulties so that the correct intervention can be arranged.


By the age of 8, children should make all speech sound correctly.  Sounds are learned in an orderly sequence.  Some sounds such as “p”, “b”, and “m” are mastered as early as three years of age.  Other sounds, like “s”, “r”, and “l”, are not completely mastered until early school years.


Language Disorders

What are they?

Language refers to the understanding and use of words and sentences to convey specific thoughts or meaning in connected speech or in writing.  Children may have difficulties with their receptive language skills (their listening and understanding of language) and expressive language (their speaking skills) or their speech skills (the way they produce words and sounds). These areas may also effect a child's reading and writing skills or in younger children the development of literacy skills. 


Receptive Language Disorders

Receptive language refers to a child's ability to understand and process either spoken or written language. Children may have problems in the following areas:


  • following directions or completing instructions 

  • understanding complex sentence structures (e.g. passive sentences) 

  • understanding the meaning and content of speech 

  • discriminating between sounds 

  • understanding word meanings 


Expressive Language Disorders

Refers to a child's ability to express themselves and get their meaning across through either speaking or writing.  Children with expressive language disorders often present with symptoms such as:

·poor sentence or grammatical structure 

·limited content in their speech 

·confused meaning and grammar 

·generally use short simple sentences 

·have problems initiating conversation or participating in conversations 

·may have difficulties recalling or retelling information 


Voice Disorders

An abnormal voice is characterized by persistent, defective voice quality, pitch, or loudness.  Voice disorders in children are usually described a hoarseness.  Hoarseness has a rough quality or character to the voice that make it more difficulty to be heard and understood.  Hoarseness may be associated with intermittent, complete loss of voice, typically after excessive use, i.e. at the end of the school day.  Misuse of the voice may cause swelling of the vocal cords and growths called polyps or nodules.  These are similar to calluses (little bumps) growing on the vocal cords, resulting in the inability of the vocal cords to come together to produce sound.



  • Hoarseness that persists for months or progresses with time 

  • Complete loss of voice (at times) 

  • Ineffective use of pitch (too high or too low) 

  • Ineffective use of volume (too soft or too loud) 

  • Ineffective breath support (too soft or too loud) 



Who should assess and treat my child? 

A Speech Pathologist will be able to assess whether a child is experiencing speech and/or language difficulties or whether they are having other difficulties with their speech and language development.  


What is the treatment?

A speech pathologist will perform a formal speech and/or language assessments to identify any specific problems and areas of strength your child may have. An assessment and input from a Neuropsychologist can also be helpful in identifying any other cognitive problems that may impact on language functions.  Some children may require, one to one therapy to initially manage and develop specific speech and language skills. 



Disclaimer: This information sheet is for education purposes only.  Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.

Tel: (925) 743-3322

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