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Areas Affecting Speech

Articulation
Fluency
Language
Voice

Every child develops differently — this is also true for a child’s speech/language development. Just as some children excel at physical ability (running, kicking and climbing), other children excel at using language and speech. However, there are some conditions that may contribute to speech and language difficulties. These may include:

  • chronic ear infections/hearing problems
  • premature birth/trauma during birth
  • developmental delay
  • illness
  • head injury
  • heredity (often in the case of stuttering)
  • Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, Autism or other medical condition.
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The different areas of speech/language that can be affected by a child’s development are articulation, fluency, language and voice.

Articulation
Articulation is how we say the sounds in our language. Articulation errors, such as “wat” for rat, “witto” for little or “fumb” for thumb are a normal part of speech development. Most children will outgrow the problem and learn the correct sounds on their own. However, a few children will not. These children need to be taught how to say the sounds correctly. Guidelines set forth by the regional articulation norms determine whether a child will be placed in speech therapy for articulation.

The sounds most likely to cause problems for children are S, Z, L, R, SH, CH, J and TH. Most children in kindergarten will not qualify for help with articulation unless they are very difficult to understand due to the age guidelines set forth by the articulation norms.

Articulation problems can be easily fixed, but requires help at home, as well. Once a child learns the new, correct sound, it must become a habit in the child’s speech.

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Fluency
Fluency is more commonly known as stuttering. Most children actually will go through a stage of disfluent or stuttered speech. Causes usually stem from frustration or nervous tension resulting from uneven development in speech sound ability, grammar or vocabulary, poor eating or sleeping habits, stopping thumb sucking, very high parental speech standards and tiredness. This is very common, so don’t be alarmed if your child stutters, especially if the child is under the age of five.

The best thing an adult can do when a child stutters is not to draw attention to the disfluent speech. Instead, wait patiently for the chills to finish speaking, try not to finish sentences for them, maintain eye contact and refrain from telling the child to “slow down,” “stop,” or “think about what you want to say before you say it.”

If your child stutters, be sure to model slow and relaxed speech when talking with your child, and encourage other friends and family members to do the same. Don’t speak so slowly that it sounds abnormal, but keep your speech unhurried with many pauses. (Television’s Mr. Rogers is a good example of unhurried speech.) When your child talks to you or asks a question, try to pause a second or so before you answer. This will help make talking to your child less hurried and more relaxed. Try not to be upset or annoyed when stuttering increases. Your child is doing his best as he copes with learning many new skills all at the same time. Your patient, accepting attitude will help your child immensely. Be sure to reassure your child when they are frustrated or upset at the stuttering. Some children respond well to hearing, “I know it’s hard to talk at times, but lots of people get stuck on words. It’s okay.” Other children are most reassured by a touch or a hug when they seem frustrated.

Of course, there are problems that do not fall within the range of stuttering that is considered to be normal. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s fluency, contact a speech pathologist for additional information.

Some characteristics of normal disfluency (stuttering):

  • The normally disfluent child occasionally repeats syllables or words once or twice, li-li-like this. Disfluencies may also include hesitancies and the use of fillers, such as “uh,” “er,” and “um.”
  • Disfluencies occur most often between ages 1.5 and 5 years and they tend to come and go. They are usually signs that a child is learning to use language in new ways. If disfluencies disappear for several weeks and then return, the child may just be going through another stage of learning.

Some characteristics of milder stuttering:

  • A child with milder stuttering repeats sounds more than twice, li-li-li-li-like this. Tension and struggle may be evident in the facial muscles, especially around the mouth.
  • The pitch of the voice may rise with repetitions and occasionally the child will experience a “block” — no air flow or voice for several seconds.
  • Disfluencies may come and go but are now present more often than absent.

Some characteristics of severe stuttering:

  • A child with severe stuttering will stutters on more than 10% of their speech.
  • The child may stutter with considerable effort and tension or avoids stuttering by changing words and using extra sounds to get started.
  • If your child displays signs of severe stuttering, you should contact your local school district and inquire about evaluation.

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Language
Language development is a large area. Language is the ability to understand what is said to you and how to put your thoughts and ideas into words so that you can communicate with others. The only way to learn language is to listen, talk and read. Reading to your child is still one of the best things you can do for them, and you can begin this as early as six months of age. Children are often delayed in language development due to illness, medical condition, environmental factors or other reasons.

A child that has normal language development will use age appropriate vocabulary, use plurals, pronouns and verb tenses correctly, generate sentences that make sense and relate events and/or tell stories in sequential order.

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Voice
Most children’s voices develop without any problems. Voice disorders are not very common, however, some children are prone to problems. Children who have problems in this area tend to either scream and yell a lot, which can cause vocal nodules to form, or have chronically hoarse voices. If your child falls into this category, you should discourage screaming and yelling as much as possible or consult a doctor if your child’s voice is constantly hoarse.

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Questions? Comments? Please email Scott or Tracey.