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Speech sound development

Thursday, August 21, 2014


There is no doubt about it, the first time a child says “ I wuv you,” every parent melts inside. But at what point is “baby talk” no longer acceptable and you should expect to hear "I love you" instead?

Due to the variation of learning, Lawrence Shriberg, a speech sound guru, created guidelines for sound development for easy understanding. He reported that sounds develop in series of 8- early, middle, and late. The following list summarizes sound development:

Early 8 sounds:

M as in "mom"

B as in "boy"

Y as in "you"

N as in "no"

W as in "we"

D as in "dog"

P as in "pat" 

H as in "hat"

Middle 8 sounds:

T as in "two"

"-ng" as in "crying"

K as in "kick"

G as in "go"

F as in "fun"

V as in "vine"

"ch" as in "chip"

J as in "jump"

Late 8 sounds:

"sh" as in "ship"

S as in "sip"

"th" as in "think"

"th" as in "there"

R as in "rain"

Z as in "zoo"

L as in "love"

"zh" as in "treasure"

While sounds are likely to emerge in this order, age guidelines can also be helpful for parents so they know when to seek help. Shriberg’s early sounds are typically developed and mastered by the age of 3, middle sounds between 4 and 5 years, and late sounds by 7 years of age. Some children may develop sounds out of order and that’s okay! However, children who are developing their sounds at a slower rate than these guidelines, are using sound subtitutions or omissions, and/or have one or more risk factors should contact a speech and language pathologist to determine if a speech evaluation is needed.

Risk factors include but are not exclusive to:

  • Premature birth

  • NICU stay after birth due to medical complications

  • PE tubes

  • Cleft lip or palate

  • Hearing disorders

  • Family history of speech/language delays

  • Lack of exposure to speech and language

A speech evaluation will check your child’s sounds with developmental norms to determine if your child is eligible for speech therapy. A speech therapist will then work with your child in the development of these sounds using researched methods for speech sound treatment.

This might leave you wondering what else you can do. Once your child is enrolled in therapy, make sure that you are practicing at home. Generalization of skills learned in the treatment room can only happen with practice during normal routine. Below are some ways to help your child get extra practice:

  1. Ask the speech therapist for directions or cues that they use in speech therapy to help the child correctly produce the sound.

  2. Have the child fix the sound when it is produced incorrectly once they have it mastered at the word level.

  3. Sit down and do speech homework to get extra drill practice.

  4. While you are in the car, have the child think of or name items they see containing that sound.

  5. Find pictures of the sound and play memory at home.

  6. Download the free version of “Articulation Station-” a speech therapy app that has flashcards of each sound in all positions of words.

  7. During story time, have the child find pictures with the sound.

Remember to try to make practicing fun and celebrate correct productions during both structured and unstructured activity. Motivating your child is another tool for your toolbox!