I can’t understand my child. Is this normal?
A guide to children’s Speech Sound Development
Written by Tanya Goodman, Speech Pathologist, Southern Highlands Pathology
Did you know that learning to speak involves some of the most complex muscle movements in your body? The tongue is an amazing muscle that makes more than 20 different movements in order to produce speech sounds. These movements combine with our vocal chords and air stream to form the various speech sounds that make up words, phrases and sentences. Adults are capable of speaking up to 90 words per minute.
Young children start to play around with their voices from birth, practicing vowel and early consonant sounds within their baby babble and typically forming their first baby words “eg. Mama, dada” from approximately 6 months of age.
By the age of two many more speech sounds have developed and include most vowel sounds and consonants (including m, n, p, b, k, g, h, w, t, d). A typical two-year old may have 50 different words which contain a large variety of speech sounds. Adults can usually understand approximately 50% of a 2-year old’s speech.
By the age of four a typically developing child should be able to be mostly understood by those around them, with almost all of the regular sounds in the English language being successfully produced. New sounds typically mastered around 4 years of age include l, j, ch, s, v, sh and z.
When a child cannot say a particular sound, they will often replace it with an easier one, these follow predictable patterns and are called ‘phonological processes’. Many of these patterns typically resolve in the first few years and result in speech that become clearer and easier to understand.
Some children do not develop all the sounds in the typical order and continue to substitute harder sounds for easier ones after it is developmentally appropriate. Other children may also use processes that are not typically developing and as a result will not grow out of them. In these cases, it is recommended that you seek support from a speech pathologist.
If you have a three or four-year-old who’s speech is still very difficult to understand in conversation, a speech assessment is recommended.
Red flags for a speech sound disorder are:
- Unable to understand a child’s speech over the age of three
- Child replacing a large number of sounds with one or two sounds (eg all their words start with ‘b’ or ‘d’).
- Excessive frustration when your child is talking to others because they are not being understood.
If you have any questions regarding your child’s speech or communication development please contact our clinic on 4862 5063 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org