February 20, 2023

Phonological Processes: What are they? And are they normal?

Laura Gencarella Speech Therapist in Charlotte, NC

Laura Gencarella
Owner, Speaking Sensory LLC

Speaking Sensory speech therapy session in Charlotte, NC

As your toddler starts to learn language and practice speaking, you may have noticed them making changes to words in order to simplify their pronunciation. This is known as phonological processes, and it is an important part of language development in young children.

Phonological processes are sound errors that typically developing children use to simplify language as they learn to speak. A phonological disorder occurs when these processes persist beyond the age at which most children have stopped using them. Treatment usually involves targeting these processes instead of addressing each error individually, and early intervention is key for successful communication abilities in the future. This usually helps improve speech intelligibility at a faster rate since it takes into account more complex speech issues. It is important to note that proper assessment and early intervention are key when it comes to successful communication abilities later in life. Generally, by two years old a child should be 50% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener, by three years old 75% intelligible, and by four or five years old nearly 100% intelligible with some individual articulation errors still present in their speech. Please refer to the chart below, thanks to Mommy Speech Therapy, for a visual guide of the specific substitutions, additions, omissions and deletions that are typical, and ages they should be extinguished.

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As previously stated, these patterns are typical and often encouraged when children are learning to speak. You may have heard your child say “nana” for “banana”, or “tat” for “cat”, or “do” for “dog”, all of which are considered appropriate simplifications until a certain age. If your child is still exhibiting these patterns after the ages listed above, they would likely benefit from a speech/language evaluation!

When to be Concerned:

Sometimes, children will use simplification patterns that are linked to more complex concerns, such as initial consonant deletion (“up” for “cup”) and backing, such as “goo’ for ‘do’). If your child is exhibiting these speech patterns consistently, please follow up with a speech language pathologist and request an evaluation to discuss next steps, and maximize treatment outcomes in the future.

SLP TIP AND TRICK: did you know that using these simplifications when children are having difficulty with certain sounds/pronunciations are also really successful at increasing intelligibility? For example, a child struggling to include /l/s in /l/ blends (think- slide), a technique would be to prompt gliding (/w/ for /l/) and model “swide”, which typically results in a child saying both consonants within the cluster, increasing their ability to be understood!

Contact us today to see if your child’s speech patterns are considered typical for their age or if they would benefit from skilled intervention! Did this help you understand if phonological processes are normal for your child’s age range? We’re here for you!

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