A person with a speech sound disorder has difficulty speaking clearly and may be difficult for other people to understand. This has also been called a speech articulation problem or a phonological disorder.

What is a speech sound disorder?

A speech sound disorder occurs when a person has difficulty producing speech sounds beyond the age when we would expect him or her to have learned those sounds. A person with a severe speech disorder can be difficult to understand.

What are the types of speech sound errors?

Most speech errors fall into one of 3 categories:

  1. omissions (e.g., “poon” for spoon);
  2. substitutions (e.g., “tup” for cup); and
  3. distortions (e.g., a lisp on /s/ sounds).

The types of errors affect how well a person can be understood. Those who omit sounds are generally more difficult to understand than those who distort speech sounds.

Child Speech Sound DisorderWill a child outgrow a speech sound problem?

A child's overall speech pattern will usually become more understandable as he or she matures, but some children will need direct treatment to eliminate speech errors. The nature of the speech pattern of the individual child will determine the answer to this question.

Is it important to treat speech sound problems?

When you consider the possible impact a speech sound disorder may have on social and emotional development, learning to read and write, and/or vocational status, the answer becomes obvious. The quality of our lives is affected by the adequacy of our speech.

Can an adult with a speech sound problem be helped?

Most speech sound problems can be helped regardless of a person's age. Some problems such as those associated with a stroke or the impairment of muscles used in speaking are particularly difficult to modify, may require a long period of treatment, and even with extensive treatment, the individual may never produce speech that sounds the same as individuals without such physical problems.

What if a person cannot use speech to communicate? Are there other options?

Yes, when a person cannot achieve speech that is understandable to others, we can work on other methods of communicating. This could include a picture or print-based system so the person can show people what they want to say. It could also involve selecting an appropriate speech device. These devices are called augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices and they are computer-based devices that can generate speech. These devices can help a person communicate for a short time while they develop better speech skills, or they can be used long term if speech is not possible.

Who can help?

A speech-language pathologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) can treat speech sound disorders.

Useful Links

At the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) Speech, Language, and Hearing Clinic, we provide speech treatment for children, adolescents, and adults who have speech sound disorders. Students in training provide services under the direct supervision of certified speech-language pathologists using up-to-date, research-based treatments. Call the clinic for information, 724-357-2451.