Speech Articulation in Children: What It Is and Warning Signs to Look Out For
Articulation is the production of sounds that lead to the words that we want to communicate.
In children, speech articulation develops in sequence. Firstly, they need to be aware on how to move their jaws, how this helps to produce sounds, and how to be consistent throughout it all. The articulation of speech in children is a combination of their abilities and range of movement.
When do children develop their speech articulation skills?
From as early as 6 months, children are already exploring the sounds that they can make with their mouths and this is a continuous process. By 8-10 months, they should be able to imitate sounds, and this should lead to them being more intentional with the sounds that they make (i.e. to communicate or to tell you something). It’s the foundation of tongue and jaw movement, and how they develop their speech.
By the time they turn 3, they should be clearer when communicating what they are trying to say although they may not be able to articulate all the sounds perfectly.
What’s considered normal and what are some signs that indicate the onset of speech articulation difficulties in children?
After 1.5 years old, children should be able to imitate and form words (e.g. cat) – and understand the meaning behind the words, instead of merely saying it. If a child does not seem to be meeting the developmental milestones around this age, that can be a cause for concern. Apart from observing for the sounds that they make, other signs to look out for include the movement of their jaw, tongue and lips, as well as the chewing movement while taking solid or semi-solid food.
By 2 years old, they should be able to say simple words like how, now, what – and not just babble or over-generalise sounds (i.e. ba ba ba) to communicate.
By 3 years old, a child’s speech articulation should be clear enough to enable parents to understand what he/she is saying. The child should not be having problems pronouncing the ending letters (e.g. Cake instead of Cat)
By the time a child turns 4, parents should be able to understand all that they are saying and they should be pronouncing the initial and ending sounds clearly (e.g. Cho-co-late instead of just -choc-late).
What parents can do to help improve their children’s speech articulation
When talking to young children, it would be helpful to slow down to allow them to take in the words and sounds. To help them say the sounds correctly, start by working on the lips and jaw movement first.
There are fun and interesting ways in which this can be done to teach children the different sounds that need to be made in order to articulate clearly the different word sounds.
Here are some ideas to keep them engaged throughout the process:
For children aged 2 and below – Engage them through games by imitating the different sounds of objects and animals or use rhymes to teach them to pronounce words correctly. We can also put them in front of a mirror so that they can see how their mouths and lips move when saying certain words, or to use puppets for this.
For children who do not seem to be moving their lips when they talk, do encourage them by getting them to “blow” bubbles or a horn.
Treatment for speech articulation difficulties in children
To get help for speech articulation difficulties in children, do consult a speech therapist who will assess your child’s articulation difficulties and develop a suitable treatment plan.
Treatment will focus on modelling and using the affected speech sounds during play. A mirror and the relevant gestures will be used to demonstrate the manner and place of articulation. The process will help the child to learn the correct way to produce the sound.
The child will be asked if the sound that was heard is correct or incorrect. This activity can be practiced in isolation, in words and in sentences progressively. Once the child is familiar with the sounds, phonetic placement techniques will be used to work on the positioning of the mouth, tongue, lips or jaw during speech.
If left untreated, what issues can articulation difficulties lead to?
Children who show signs of speech articulation should get help as soon as possible, as this can lead to greater issues such as:
Difficulties in engaging in positive social interaction.
Low self-confidence and difficulties in communication.
Hesitates to communicate and feel anxious & frustrated, as the child feels that he/she is not being understood.
With speech articulation difficulties, the child may always require a parent or caregiver to be around to translate or help with the communication. In the long run, this can affect their performance in school.
Article contributed by MindChamps Allied Care @ East Coast.