Recently, the primary concern of parents of 3 to 4-year old children who have contacted our clinic, has been unintelligible or unclear speech. They often state, “I can’t understand what he’s (she’s) saying!” and wonder if anything can be done to clear up their child’s speech.  Parents are initially asked to rate their child’s speech clarity on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being “very poor” speech clarity and 10 being “excellent” speech clarity.  Most parents rate their child’s speech somewhere between 4 to 6 on the rating scale.  They are then provided with the following information:

By the age of 3 years, a child’s speech should be understandable at least 80% of the time.  By age 4, speech should be 100% intelligible or understandable.  Children with highly unintelligible speech should be evaluated by a Speech-Language Pathologist. Speech-Language evaluations are scheduled after a formal hearing evaluation has been completed and hearing evaluation results are obtained.

The primary diagnosis of the children who have been evaluated by The Clinic for Speech-Language & Swallowing Disorders (The Clinic), over the past few months, has been “Phonological Process Disorder.”  Phonological processes are speech patterns that children use to simplify adult speech. When a child uses too many patterns of sound errors, it is called a phonological process disorder. For example, substituting all sounds made in the back of the mouth like “k” and “g” for those in the front of the mouth like “t” and “d” (e.g. saying “tup” for “cup” or “das” for “gas”). Aside from these speech patterns, there are also rules of speech.  One rule of speech, for example, is that some words start with two consonants, such as “br” in the word “broken” and “sp” in the word “spoon.”  When children don’t follow this rule and say only one of those sounds, for example, “boken” for “broken” or “poon” for “spoon,” it is more difficult for the listener to understand what the child is saying.  While it is common for young children learning speech to leave one of the sounds out of a word, or to produce patterns of sound errors, it is not expected for a child to keep doing so as he/she gets older (ASHA, 2012). 

If your child has unintelligible speech and it has been a concern for you, contact The Clinic  for more information.