Unclear Speech in Children

Our speech pathology services

Is your child making all the right sounds?

Is your toddler not able to be understood by people outside of the family? Maybe preschool educators are saying it’s hard to understand your child? How do you know whether your child’s speech is age-appropriate or if you should take action?

By the age of around 3 years, most of what your child says should be clear to unfamiliar listeners and be conversationally understood all the time by around 4 years. While lisping can be very common in early childhood, by the age of 5 your child should be able to make all sounds correctly (the one exception is the ‘th’ sound, which is typically developed by 7.5 years).

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The good news is that speech therapy for unclear speech can help your child make real progress, no matter what the underlying cause. And treating sound difficulties early makes it easier to make the change and also helps prevent teasing from other children who may pick up on subtle mispronunciations. That’s why one of our services is screening programs in preschools, so we can recommend if intervention is needed or if your child will ‘grow out’ of the issue.

Causes of unclear speech in children

Sometimes unclear speech is an articulation error, caused by not putting the lips, tongue or jaw in the right position to make a sound correctly. Lisps are an example of this.

Other times, unclear speech is a phonological disorder, where your child isn’t understanding the differences between sounds and how they are used.

Low muscle tone can also cause unclear speech, called dysarthria.

Unclear speech may also be caused Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). This is a disorder where your child can’t coordinate the muscle movements of their lips, tongue, and jaw, even though they know what they want to say. Children may have difficulties saying sounds when you ask them to, but be able to do it on their own. They might say a sound on its own but then have difficulty combining it with different sounds to clearly say a word or sentence, or they may say a word differently each time.

Our therapists have specific training on programs for children with CAS including Nuffield Dyspraxia Program, as well as training on differentiating between CAS and other speech difficulties.

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It’s never too early to seek help for speech. Early intervention is proven to be successful and if you have any concerns, it’s best to get them checked. Our experienced team can put your mind at ease and confirm that your child is tracking as expected or will grow out of the issue, or if required, create a tailored treatment plan with a clear timeline of expected progression.

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