When a youngster is learning to speak, he or she will often have difficulty producing certain sounds and will replace those sounds with another sound.

A common example of this is the “Elmer Fudd” way of speaking, where all the /r/ sounds are replaced by /w/ sounds. There are several typical phonological processes that children use as they learn speech and language. Usually, children are completely unaware that they have mispronounced a word and may even argue that they said it correctly. Typically, as children get older, they learn to produce those difficult sounds and usually correct those errors without even realizing it. As this happens, children’s speech productions become clearer, and they becomes more intelligible (i.e., easy to understand).

When phonological processes do not disappear by a certain age; and/or the child can easily produce the omitted sound, but doesn’t use it in his or her speech, the child is said to have a phonological disorder. Phonological disorders can and do affect pre-literacy skills. As a result, children with these difficulties usually have difficulty learning to read and write.

As speech therapists, we can help children with phonological difficulties in the following ways:

• We can teach the child how to make the sounds that he/she is having difficulty producing

• We can help the child become aware of his/her difficulties

• We can work with the child and caregivers to improve pre-literacy skills.

Written by: Claudia Correia, Speech-Language Pathologist, The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada.