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A parent's guide to understanding articulation

For parents who are trying to correct the way their children speak, it can be frustrating to accept and understand that their child can easily say “go”…but why can’t they say “grow”? This post aims to help parents of children with speech sound disorders to understand why it can be so difficult to correct a child’s speech, and the discrepancy that seems so insignificant between the words “go” and “grow”.

First, let’s answer some simpler questions.

1. What is articulation?

  • Articulation refers to how the parts of our oral mechanism (lips, teeth, tongue, palate) in conjunction with our vocal tract, oral/nasal cavities, and our respiratory system form different sounds.

2. What is articulation therapy?

  • Therapy targeting the accurate production of speech sounds is referred to as “articulation therapy” and targets misarticulation, distortion, or omission of sounds within words.

Intervention may be necessary to teach one how to accurately produce these sounds or to remediate patterns of errors in speech – but it is not always clear to parents why it’s so difficult for their child to imitate the sounds they’re modeling.

  • Determining what errors or patterns of errors a child may need to work on can be complicated, and it is integral that a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) makes a differential diagnosis before creating a plan to treat them.

  • A differential diagnosis refers to the specific way that a speech sound disorder is classified and ensures that one etiology is not mistaken for another before a treatment plan is made

  • Etiologies that may contribute to a child’s difficulty with speech sound production include but are not limited to…

  • Structural differences - both congenital (cleft palate, cleft lip, tongue tie, low tone, etc.) and acquired (i.e. missing dentition, injury to the oral facial mechanism, etc.)

  • Childhood Apraxia of Speech (motor planning)

  • Hearing loss

  • Neurological damage

  • Developmental delay in the production of speech sounds

So, what makes articulation so complex?

The production of consonant and vowel sounds can be classified into 3 groups – place, manner, and voicing. The combination of these three components differentiates one sound from another.

PLACE: Are the articulators in the correct place?

  • Try saying “go”, paying close attention to how the back of your tongue pushes up against your soft palate.

  • Now say “doe”, and pay attention to how the tip of your tongue pops up to the bumpy ridge behind your top teeth.

  • These words differ only by the first consonant, but the position, or placement of our tongue is SO different.

MANNER: Is the air supplied from the respiratory system being channeled in the correct way?

  • Let’s compare how your mouth feels when you say “shoe” versus “chew”. Your articulators stay in the exact same position, but the way you push the air out of your mouth changes drastically.

VOICE: Are the vocal folds vibrating or not?

  • Put your hand on your trachea (Adam’s apple area), and say “bee”. Notice how there’s vibration on your fingers when you start the word. Now say “pea” – no vibration when you start with a “p” sound. This is another difference between sounds, whether or not our vocal folds vibrate to create “voicing”

Now let’s answer the initial question posed – why may is be easier for a child to say “go” compared to “grow”, here is one final example.

  • Say “go”, noticing how your tongue is in the back of your mouth initially, and then your mouth opens up to create the vowel “oh” sound.

  • Now, slowly, say “grow”. Our tongue starts in the same position, but quickly flips backward to create the “r” sound before our mouth opens to create a vowel sound.

Hopefully, these examples and exercises were helpful in demonstrating how complex creating speech sounds is, and why speech may not come to some as easily as it does to others. Having even a surface-level understanding of how we speak can help parents and others working with children to demonstrate patience and compassion when their child needs speech intervention.

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