Researchers have done an amazing job of analyzing and breaking down the order in which children typically develop various speech sounds; however, I’m about ready to throw these developmental norms out the window.
Whenever parents notice their child’s articulation errors and wonder if it’s “normal,” or if they need to be concerned, they almost always will get an answer that is based on a chart such as this. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with informing parents of what to expect with regard to speech sound acquisition, but I think we (speech therapists) are missing the point.
By simply telling a parent that it’s normal for a 5-year-old child to use /w/ instead of /r/, (e.g. wed for red), and leaving it at that – we send the message that there’s nothing they need to do and that it will resolve on its own. Yet, we know that is not the case for 8-9% of children. Ignoring the errors until the child is old enough to consider them a problem is absolutely absurd, yet it seems to be the common approach.
Children rely on feedback as they develop in all different ways, including speech and language.
What we don’t realize is that for every time that child says he wants his “wed hat” and we give him his red hat without any additional feedback, we are completely reinforcing his use of /w/ for /r/.
Next thing you know he’s 8 years old and being referred for speech therapy.
If I were to explain what speech therapy is in one word it would be FEEDBACK. Speech therapy is simply a ton of feedback. The problem is, it takes so much feedback for a child to unlearn what he has practiced countless times since he began to talk. Which begs the question: Why do we wait to provide feedback?
We can and should be giving our children positive, appropriate feedback on their speech, regardless of age or gender.
Instead of referring to a chart and waiting for a disorder to develop, speech therapists should be encouraging and training parents to provide feedback to their children, just in case their child is one of the 8-9% who won’t grow out of it.
I realize now is the time for me to elaborate on what constitutes “feedback.” I will get to that in my next post, but for now, I’ll just say this – feedback does not mean therapy. It is simply demonstrating for the child another way to do what he or she just did.
Note: When I refer to articulation/speech sound disorders, I am referring to functional speech sound disorders – meaning there is no known cause or underlying factors (physical, developmental, neurological, etc.) that have impaired the child’s speech and language development.