An overview of developmental speech difficulties

Developmental speech difficulties is a term used to cover difficulties that some children have with their articulation, phonological and/or prosodic development. A variety of other terms are also used to describe developmental speech difficulties including speech sound disorder, speech delay and speech impairment and in some cases, dyspraxia. 

Speech and language therapy aims to identify the particular pattern of speech difficulties that the child has and provide appropriate intervention to match an individual’s needs. Some children have speech difficulties linked to childhood dysarthria. There is more information about this type of speech difficulty in the motor disorder topic area.

Key points:

  • The majority of children with developmental speech difficulties have no identifiable  cause for their problems. However, speech difficulties can be associated with other conditions such as cleft palate, cerebral palsy and global developmental delay. 

  • Some children with developmental speech difficulties also have problems with their language development (i.e. how they use words in sentences). Other children will only have problems with their speech. 

  • Children show patterns of errors in their speech. These might be patterns which are observed in typically developing younger children or non-developmental patterns. The terms ‘delay’ and ‘disorder’ may be used to describe these different patterns but these terms are also used interchangeably while in some countries, all developmental speech difficulties are labelled speech sound disorder. 

  • Children typically vary in their speech development. Younger children produce speech which is different to adult speech but which may be within the normal range, depending on their age and which sounds they are having problems with.

  • There are variations in how adults produce speech as well and the ‘errors’ which some children make in their speech might be more accurately described as a speech difference rather than a speech difficulty, depending on the impact on intelligibility and acceptability of the child’s speech to others.   

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