Phonowodital PwocessesDey tant be as twicky as you tink!

What are they?

Some big words to mean patterns of errors children make when learning to speak, to make speaking easier. These errors reflect a difficulty in organising the patterns of speech sounds in the brain.

What do they sound like?

When a child goes to say a particular sound (or group of sounds), the sound is changed in a predictable way. Generally, the errors are consistent and follow patterns, and usually apply to a particular sound regardless of the position within a word or phrase
e.g. Whenever a child goes to say a “k” sound within a word, it will come out as a “t” sound – “cat” becomes “tat”, “back” becomes “bat”, “ticket” becomes “titet” etc.

Phonological Processes come in many forms

The above is an example of “Fronting”, when a child produces a sound at the front of the mouth, when it should be a sound produced at the back (e.g. k -> t, g -> d). Other types of processes include “Stopping” (when a consonant produced with continuous airflow is substituted for one with short air flow e.g. s -> d, f -> p) or “Final Consonant Deletion” (when a word that ends in a consonant is left off e.g. “toe” instead of “toad”), and many more!

Usually, children will be able to produce the sound they error correctly on its own e.g. can make the sound for “k” when asked, but will say “tat” instead of “cat” when speaking – here, the “k” sound has become a “t” at the start of the word.

Some phonological processes are considered “typical”, while others are considered “atypical”.

  • A “typical” error follows the expected patterns of learning to speak – not all children will make these errors, but if they do, it’s developmentally appropriate until a certain age (each error has its own age for remediation – consult a speech pathologist for specifics)
    • “Typical” phonological processes do not require intervention unless the child continues to produce them past the age of developmental appropriateness (or if it is significantly impacting their capacity to be understood!).
  • An “atypical” error does not following the developmental trajectory; if a child makes these errors at any stage, they are considered a red flag for speech development.

Phonological processes are not to be confused with other speech errors such as “lisps” – these types of errors are called “articulation errors”, and occur when speakers have difficulty physically moving their lips, tongue and other parts of the mouth to make a particular sound. Phonological processes are difficulties with the organisation of the sounds of the speech system in the brain; where children can (generally) make a particular sound on its own/when prompted, but make the same predictable changes to it in fluent speech.

  • If the child has not “grown out of” these errors by the expected age, they can hang around for life! It might be cute now when your little one says things like “I wuv da puddy tat!”, but think of how this would sound from someone at age 12, 20, or 50!
  • The more of these patterns a child uses, the more difficult they are to understand – when children are difficult to understand, this limits their access to their world! They might have difficulty expressing their wants, needs and feelings, as well as difficulty socialising.
  • Can lead to difficulties with learning to spell and write.

Therapy for phonological processes centres around teaching the child that making these speech errors changes the meaning of what they are trying to say. We start by making sure the child can hear the difference between their errors, and the words they are trying to say (e.g. When they try to say “key”, they are saying “tea”, which already is a word with its own meaning). We then train them to make the correct productions of words by validating that we have understood the meaning of what they are trying to say. We teach them how to do this in small segments of words, then whole words, phrases, sentences and eventually, conversation!

This type of therapy must be conducted by a trained speech pathologist, as the training conditions for teaching the child to fix the errors are very specific, and any deviations from this can lead to the child not making progress, making new errors, or not fixing the errors in all types of speech at all times.

Want to read more?

Bowen, C. (2011). What is the difference between an articulation disorder and a phonological disorder? Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/
Bernthal, Bankson & Flipsen (2016). Articulation and Phonological Disorders: Speech sound disorders in children. 8th Edition.