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Not all Speech Problems are The Same

When a child has difficulty being understood, it is important to figure out what type of speech problem the child is experiencing. Not every speech problem is the same, and different problems require different types of treatment. Difficulties being understood typically fall into two main categories: Speech Sound Disorders and Motor Speech Disorders. An evaluation with a speech-language pathologist can help determine which type of speech problem your child has and what the best course of treatment is. Read on to learn more about these two categories of speech problems and how you can best support your child if they are experiencing difficulties being understood!

An evaluation with a speech-language pathologist can help determine which type of speech problem your child has and what the best course of treatment is.

What are Speech Sound Disorders?

As children learn to talk, they learn how to make the sounds required for speech. It takes time and practice, but by the age of 4 most children will be able to say nearly all speech sounds correctly. Children who are not able to say sounds correctly by expected ages may have a speech sound disorder. There are two types of speech sound disorders: articulation disorders and phonological disorders.

Articulation Disorders

Your child may substitute one sound for another, leave sounds out, add sounds, or change a sound. This often results in the child being difficult to understand, which is understandably frustrating for both the child and the adult. While it is normal for children to have difficulties producing some sounds when they are young, it may be a problem as they become older.

Phonological Disorders

Phonological disorders occur when there are patterns of errors that impact entire groups of words. For example, a child may produce all sounds that occur in the back of the mouth in the front of the mouth, such as saying “Tup” for “Cup” and “Dame” for “Game”. Children can have more than one error pattern, causing the child to be very difficult to understand.

What are Motor Speech Disorders?

A motor speech disorder occurs when a child struggles to produce speech because of problems with motor planning or muscle tone needed for speech. There are two types of motor speech disorders: dysarthria and apraxia.


When the muscles required for speech are weak, speech can sound slurred, slow, imprecise, and distorted. This is known as dysarthria. Dysarthria occurs as a result of brain damage, which can occur during birth or after an illness or injury. In children, causes of dysarthria include traumatic brain injuries, stroke, tumors, cerebral palsy, and degenerative brain disorders.


When a child has apraxia of speech, their brain has difficulties sending messages to the muscles required for speech. This is not a problem with the child’s muscles, but rather the brain being able to send the right signals to the muscles in order for the muscles to produce speech in a coordinated manner. Apraxia can have different levels of severity. Your child may show some or all the signs below. You should speak with your pediatrician and have your child evaluated by a speech-language pathologist if your child is 3 years or older and:

  • Does not always say words the same way every time

  • Tends to put the stress on the wrong syllable or word

  • Distorts or changes sounds

  • Can say shorter words more clearly than longer words

A comprehensive speech-language evaluation is necessary to determine the type and severity of speech disorder. Treatment is determined by the speech-language pathologist based on the child’s age, type of disorder, and family input. Play-based therapy techniques and reinforcement are used to make therapy fun and motivating for children. If you have concerns about your child’s speech, contact us for a free consultation.

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