Feb 192015

The little girl’s lisp and the boy’s “British” r’s sound cute at age 3, but not in the adult speaker.

  • Do children outgrow early articulation errors?

Children learn to pronounce the sounds of their language from a young age by imitating what they hear and using trial and error.  By matching their own production to the sounds of adults, teachers and the world at large, children develop speech during the first years of life.  Most modify early errors by age 5 to 6 in a predictable pattern. A normal feedback mechanism based on listening and imitating is the key to how a child learns to speak.  By age 6, nearly all speech should be pronounced with standard sounds (within a child’s environment.)  By age 7 at the latest,  a child’s speech patterns become “natural” and will not self correct.

  • What affects normal speech development?

Frequent ear infections often cause delays in a child’s speech development.  The regular feedback loop for hearing and matching speech sounds can be disrupted by fluctuating hearing loss during ear infections and by congestion that persists afterward. Some children have difficulty in oro-motor dexterity so that imitating the speech sounds around them can become difficult.  Sounds requiring highly coordinated movements of the tongue may develop later (by age 6-7) — or not at all.

Once speech habits become ingrained, however, they become more difficult to change.  So the longer an incorrect pattern persists, the longer it will take to correct. The key to helping a child develop a speech pattern free of articulation errors is early intervention: before the ear to mouth feedback process shuts down — generally by age 5 .  After age 7, children stop modifying their speech patterns on their own.

Older children, teenagers and adults rarely listen to how they speak; what they’re saying becomes the focus.  In this way the errors in a child’s speech pattern become part of the adult’s normal speaking habits.

  • When should speech errors be corrected?

The earlier professional treatment takes place, the easier and faster the process to correct speech errors.  Teenagers and adults who are motivated to develop clear, error-free speech can be helped by a speech pathologist at any age.  But early intervention will prevent childhood problems becoming adult errors.

Most adults recognize that to some degree we are judged by what we say and how we say it.  To the adage “we are what we eat” one may add, “we are how we speak.”


Check back soon for more articles on speech and language, voice, writing and cognitive function.

Oct 232014

“Along with a child’s first steps, the first spoken word surely ranks as one of the high points in a parent’s life.  Those first words — along with early phrases — stay in a parent’s mind.  Later, we take for granted the physical and intellectual feats that children exhibit on a regular basis, but those first words, usually 10 to 20 by 18 months are truly spectacular.”

[read more here:  Your Child’s Speech and Language Development (pdf). Your Family’s Health, Fall/Winter 2014.]

Jun 122014

While the movie, “The King’s Speech” brought a good deal of attention to a problem affecting children and adults, most people generally have limited knowledge about stuttering.

Is my child really stuttering?

I am frequently asked by parents of young children whether their child’s speech is true stuttering.  Many children experience a period of normal dysfluency, generally between the ages of two and three, when their speech is notable for the repetition of sounds at the beginning of words.  But true stuttering has clear markers in the child’s speech pattern that an experienced speech-language pathologist can diagnose.

Is my child’s stuttering psychological?

When a child is clearly exhibiting a stuttering pattern, some parents worry that the stuttering is psychological —  an idea held by many people in general about stuttering.  The movie, “The King’s Speech” reinforced the theory of childhood pressures and trauma as the primary cause of stuttering.  It makes for good drama but not fact.  Stuttering does not begin in the stutterer’s mind, or as some theories suggest, in the response of the mother or father to the child.

Is stuttering hereditary?

Research does confirm a genetic link in families that may predispose a child to become a stutterer, especially in males.  This fact makes it important for parents with a family history who question whether their child is stuttering to have a fluency evaluation by a speech-language pathologist.

If it’s not psychological, what’s really happening?

A stuttering block is a miscoordination between breathing and speaking that results in a tightening of the muscles in the throat. The stutterer struggles to break out of the spasm and the result is the pattern we hear as a stutter.   Eye blinking, facial grimacing and other sites of muscular tension can accompany the stutter.  A degree of psychological conditioning can take place when the problem persists.  If a stutterer feels uncomfortable in a speaking situation, the problem may be intensified.  But the fundamental cause is neurological, not psychological.

Older children and adults who stutter may appear to be struggling to speak and the listener often feels uncomfortable watching. But young children generally are not aware of their difficulty.

Can stuttering be cured?

Stuttering can be treated at any age.  Older children and adults can develop techniqes to control their dysflency.  But children whose stuttering is detected at an early age have the greatest chance of developing fluent speech because they learn to coordinate their breathing and speaking in a natural way without becoming self conscious.


Check back soon for more thoughts on speech pathology, communications and executive functioning.




Jul 102009

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…” as Gershwin wrote, and true it is. No more school, after school lessons, and no more homework. Kids feel free, parents breathe easier, life has a slower pace. Perhaps fifty years ago, even twenty-five years ago, this was the life, but not now, not entirely. Yes, no school, no homework, but research has shown that students of all ages lose skills and knowledge when they spend two months without any intellectual challenge, without reading or simple calculation. What’s a parent to do?

Read the rest of the article here (pdf)

Jun 102009

Along with a child’s first steps, the first spoken word surely ranks as one of the high points in a parent’s life. Whether it’s car as in the case of one of my sons, or hi for my other one, those first words — along with early phrases, car gone, I see — stay in a parent’s mind. For the first couple of years, every milestone achieved seems worthy of a phone call or email to family and close friends. These small acts of normal growth seem miraculous. And they are. Later, we take for granted the physical and intellectual feats that children exhibit on a regular basis, but those first words are truly spectacular. What happens after the first words?

Read the rest of this article here (pdf)