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    6 Signs of Phonological Disorder in Kids & How to Deal with It

    A phonological disorder in children is the inability to precisely organize the patterns of sounds and structure them within the proper context to pronounce words correctly. This results in the child pronouncing different words without the correct consonant, syllable, or fronting sound.

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    Kids can experience a range of phonological errors as they develop, with some requiring speech therapy to analyze the problem further. While no single reason is accurately represented to cause phonological disorder, therapists and educators can identify symptoms through preliminary analysis.

    A family history of speech disorders or developmental delays can be a vital cause of the child experiencing phonological disorder symptoms. There could also be neurological issues causing long-term phonological conditions in children.

    5 Key Challenges Faced by Children with Phonological Disorder

    Young girl reading book phonological disorder

    There are several challenges that children with phonological disorders will face if their condition is left untreated. Furthermore, without the proper teaching aids or online learning platforms, kids may find it difficult to hold a conversation for longer than a few sentences. There may also be developmental issues that may need to be addressed.

    1. Difficulty in Expression Through Speech

    Kids with a phonological disorder may find it harder to express themselves through speech, especially when excited or distressed. This may hamper their social development and make it harder for teachers to understand whether kids have understood their lessons.

    2. Difficulty in Comprehension Skills

    Comprehension skills required by kids of all ages will be far more challenging for kids with phonological disorders. Children may not understand them properly, leading to isolation or long-term inability to comprehend sentences.

    Children can easily explore many ELA sessions on SplashLearn and practice their pronunciations while learning comfortably.

    3. Increased Frustration in Communication

    Frustration caused by other kids and teachers not being able to understand your child can be a critical challenge they may face. It can also lead to secondary behavioral issues that stem from a lack of comprehension, concentration, and understanding of how to sound words.

    4. Lower Self-Confidence

    For kids, social integration and group participation are based on their comfort levels with language. Expression, communication, and clarity of thought emerge from a firm grasp of language parameters. A phonological disorder can lower self-confidence in kids, which could lead to secondary issues.

    5. Developmental Issues With Language

    If your child has been experiencing signs of a phonological disorder for years, there may be language comprehension and development issues. They may face problems forming longer sentences, understanding context, and developing a foundational language knowledge base.

    6 Ways of Recognizing Signs of Phonological Disorder in Kids

    Young kid reading book comic phonological disorder

    There are essential cues that parents should be aware of when determining whether their kids have a phonological disorder.

    1. Difficulty Understanding Speech

    If one cannot understand the child by 3 or 4 years old, they may have a phonological disorder. This may also impact their ability to make friends or be understood during playtime.

    2. Inability to Make Phonetic Sounds

    Kids sometimes cannot make phonetic sounds accurately, indicating a phonological disorder. By age 6, they should be able to sound out most phonetic sounds correctly.

    3. Difficulty Saying Complex Sounds

    More complex words are challenging for kids with a phonological disorder, which can become more apparent by 8 or 9.

    4. Mixing up Phonetic Sounds

    Kids may mix their “d” with “b” or vice versa when pronouncing certain words. They may not intuitively grasp the concept of different sounds without speech therapy.

    With Phonics Games from SplashLearn, kids will better understand correlating letter sounds and build better phonetic knowledge.

    5. Missing Letters in Words

    Children may also miss out on a letter in one word but say it perfectly in another word. An example of this would be – saying bottle perfectly fine but missing the “b” in bite and saying “ite” instead.

    6. Missing Syllables Within a Word

    Children who say “bay” instead of “baby” may have an issue with a phonological understanding of words. They may need speech therapy if they miss out on a single syllable across multiple words.

    Related Reading: Learning Disabilities in Children: Types, Symptoms & How to Help

    What are the Types of Phonological Disorders in Children?

    Young kid listening and watching video on laptop phonological disorder

    While phonological disorders can emerge with multiple symptoms, you can broadly categorize them into two categories. It is best to consult with a doctor or speech therapist to understand the deeper causes of why your child may be displaying signs of a phonological disorder.

    1. Inconsistent Phonological Disorder

    In an inconsistent phonological disorder, children may misunderstand or mispronounce the exact words differently each time. This makes comprehension even more difficult if they pronounce “bag” like “dag” or “lag” and other combinations. Kids may also not recognize the critical differences in pronouncing, making it more difficult to explain the right word to them.

    2. Consistent Phonological Disorder

    Kids showing signs of consistent phonological disorder make errors in speaking that are consistent across words. The contextual errors are more consistent across sentences and can be repeatable across conversations. These errors are also the same when using words in different situations to be targeted accurately during speech therapy or preliminary diagnosis. 

    8 Fundamental Errors Made by Children With Phonological Disorder

    Girl reading english alphabet phonological disorder

    Understanding children’s fundamental errors when they have a phonological disorder is also essential. Phonological disorder is marked by children’s different mistakes when using words to form sentences. They may also showcase single or multiple types of errors, making this a critical tool to determine the extent of the issue.

    Parents should analyze the following phonological errors in children who are developing –

    1. Duplication of Words

    Phrases such as “okey-dokey” become common parlance for kids with a phonological disorder. This common error can be fixed with one-on-one coaching, speech therapy, and language learning sessions.

    2. Context-Sensitive Voicing

    While different consonants have different sounds, children may find it difficult to differentiate between them. This can become increasingly challenging with longer sentences with multiple contextual sounds that need to be memorized.

    3. Problems With Devoicing

    Ensuring that certain letters aren’t overtly pronounced is challenging for kids with phonological disorders. This can become challenging for kids who need to adopt English, which can hamper their school growth.

    4. Fronting

    A critical phonological error kids can make is producing a front sound such as “t” and “d” instead of a back sound such as /k/ and /g/. This can confuse kids further when developing more complex words.

    5. Cluster Reduction

    Eliminating a consonant to reduce the number of syllables is another critical phonological error that kids can make. Pronouncing words without the right consonant can lead to confusion.

    6. Gliding

    Kids can make a phonological error by replacing a liquid (l, r) sound with a glide (w, y) sound. This is especially apparent when asked to sound “like,” “rough,” “rain,” etc. Gliding is another way kids can mispronounce words and require assistance to correct their working memory.

    7. Initial Consonant Deletion

    This is another phonological error that many kids may make between 3 and 4 years. The elimination of the first consonant, such as saying “ike” instead of “bike” and “at” instead of “cat,” is another common phonological issue.

    8. Metathesis

    Two or more syllables may be reversed within a word, indicating the presence of a phonological disorder. An example of this would be “elefant” instead of “elephant” sound or completely misunderstanding how to pronounce the “f” sound in a word.

    4 Treatments Available for Phonological Disorder

    Kid holding a microphone inside a studio phonological disorder

    While the cause of phonological disorders is not known precisely, doctors provide specific treatment options for children experiencing them. Depending on the child’s comfort, these treatment options can be advised in conjunction or separately. Some exercises can be performed at home, while others require a speech therapist’s guidance to ensure effectiveness.

    It is also vital to ensure that your child doesn’t have a medical reason behind their phonological disorder. Genetic, developmental, and neurological reasons behind phonological errors must be treated properly before engaging in speech therapy.

    Parents need to consult with their doctors about medical reasons their kids may be experiencing comprehension issues.

    1. Sound-Speech Therapy

    A speech-language pathologist or specialist can diagnose the child comprehensively to understand the types of phonological issues experienced. A therapist can also perform the right exercises with the child to teach them the right strategies to produce the correct sounds.

    Experts will also coach the movement of the jaw, lips, and tongue effectively to ensure that the child can use the correct muscles when pronouncing words.

    2. Group Therapy

    Many institutions, schools, and centers empower children through group therapy. This is incredibly impactful for children who don’t have severe phonological issues but need the correct exercises to pronounce certain words correctly.

    Group therapy exercises can also be performed online to make kids feel more comfortable.

    3. At-Home Exercises

    Parents can identify the key challenges that the child may be facing consistently and perform home exercises to mimic the proper speech patterns. By focusing on the right movements, context, and output of sound, parents can retrain their children to produce sounds correctly for specific words.

    4. Online English Learning Platforms

    Kids with specific challenge areas can learn about pronunciation and comprehension from online learning platforms. The leading platforms provide structured courses, worksheets, and games to encourage kids to vocalize words in the proper context. They can also focus on their weaker areas in a fun and engaging.

    The right approach for kids will be a mix of different therapies, with parents analyzing their performance over time. For kids with severe phonological symptoms, a doctor should be able to perform a complete analysis to determine medical and psychological reasons behind mispronunciation.

    Coping with Phonological Disorder

    Empower your child to learn the way they want to learn – through fun games and engaging exercises. Master the English language through an award-winning curriculum by SplashLearn.

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    Worksheets are also designed for kids to understand the context behind words to help them learn how to connect speech and sound better. Sessions with speech therapists are the standard treatment option for a phonological disorder, accompanied by online learning sessions and speech-focused learning tools.

    While childish speech may be cute initially, it can hamper development and progress at school if it continues until seven years old. Parents can try different techniques, depending on the severity and longevity of the phonological disorder in their kids.

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    Related Reading: How to Understand Developmental Disabilities and Childcare

    Frequently Asked Questions

    At what age does phonological disorder end in kids?

    Some phonological errors and issues should end by age 4, and most should be eliminated by age 7. As kids get older, they should fall out of the practice of making common errors, such as fronting, stopping, deletion, syllable shifting, etc. Parents can improve comprehension and verbalization of words with the right online learning programs.

    What is backing in terms of a phonological disorder?

    Backing is substituting a sound produced in the front of the mouth with a sound produced in the back. An example of this could be “kog,” instead of “dog,” or even “gog.” This common phonological error needs to be analyzed in children early on.

    What are the main categories of phonological processes?

    In the study of phonological disorders, three main categories of phonological processes help therapists understand a child better. They are –

    Phonological Awareness – The awareness of sound structures and manipulating sounds to pronounce specific words accurately.

    Phonological Retrieval – Retrieving certain distinct sounds is vital to learning a language and successfully recalling phonemes.

    Phonological Working Memory – Task-based memory functions related to sound and pronunciation are also crucial to learning and being aware of context differences.

    What is the difference between an articulation disorder and phonological disorder?

    While both are speech disorders, articulation disorders occur at the phonetic level, while phonological disorders occur at the cognitive level. A child with articulation disorder understands how to make the right sound but cannot through using the wrong movement. Phonological disorders do not allow children to say the right sounds, and they may even leave out consonants altogether.

    How do you know if your child has a phonological disorder?

    Some children mispronounce words at an early age and correct their behavior as they grow older. When kids cannot use the proper pronunciation and are visibly frustrated at being unable to do so, they may have a phonological disorder. A treatment protocol will need to be designed for these kids.

    Are phonological disorders common in children?

    Roughly 10-12% of children can develop a phonological problem that will can be treated using therapy, exercises, group sessions, and online learning platforms. It is best to identify symptoms sooner and analyze whether kids are experiencing frustration because of a lack of comprehension. 

    Ursula Cruz
    Ursula Cruz writes on the subject of integration of technology in classrooms and the intersection of education and child development. In her free time, she likes going on hikes with her dog, Lucy.

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