Speech sounds develop slowly, as a child’s ability to coordinate and produce sounds develop. Because of this, there are often a lot of errors that are age appropriate for little ones and no cause for concern (check out our handy guide to speech sound development). There are, however, some speech errors that do not occur at any stage in typical speech sound development, and are red flags for a more serious speech disorder.
In general, we don’t begin treating a child for speech difficulties until they are at least three years of age. Children under three are still in the early stages of learning to communicate, and the sounds they can and can’t use at this age can be pretty all over the place. Once a child turns three, however, and you notice them making one or more of the following errors, referral to a Speech Pathologist is recommended.
Changing ‘t’ and ‘d’ to ‘k’ and ‘g’
This is an error pattern known as Backing. Sounds ‘t’ and ‘d’, made by touching the front of the tongue to the front of the palate, are replaced by ‘k’ and ‘g’ respectively, which are made by touching the back of the tongue to the back of the palate.
For example, ‘toy’ would become ‘koy’, and ‘duck’ would become ‘guck’.
While doing the reverse (known as Fronting) is completely typical in very young children, this error pattern is atypical.
Leaving the first sound off of a word
This error pattern is known as Initial Consonant Deletion, when the first consonant is omitted completely from a word.
For example, ‘puppy’ would become ‘uppy’.
Do note, however, that leaving the first consonant off of a word with multiple consonants in a cluster (e.g. saying ‘wimming’ for ‘swimming’) is developmentally appropriate until around four years of age.
Using the wrong vowel sound
Vowel errors, where one vowel is replaced by another, are very uncommon and can indicate that a more severe speech disorder may be present.
For example, ‘dog’ could become ‘dirg’.
Inconsistent error productions, where a child says the same word differently, can be an indicator of Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
For example ‘ball’ could be said as ‘ball’, ‘bah’, ‘bawell’, ‘pall’, etc.
Use of unusual sounds
The name we use for this sound depends on the sound being used, but it involves the replacement of a sound with a sound not found in the English language. Some of the most common sounds that are used by children with this speech error are glottal sounds, made at the very back of the throat.
Replacing multiple sounds with the same sound
Known as Multiple Collapses, this is when a child habitually replaces a lot of their consonants with another consonant.
For example, a child who replaces sounds with ‘n’ might say ‘nog’ for dog, ‘nun’ for ‘mum’, ‘noe’ for ‘shoe’ and ‘annle’ for ‘apple’.
Small repertoire of sounds
It’s typical for even 3 year olds to have at least 8 early developing sounds (usually ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘y’, ‘b’, ‘w’, ‘d’, ‘p’ and ‘h’), so when a child has only a few sounds, this can be an indicator of a more serious speech issue.