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Speech in the Schools

Articulation: Social Belonging and Safety

Published May 17, 2016 9:09 AM by Teresa Roberts
How do you decide if a child needs articulation therapy? My colleague and I discussed different factors.

Does it sound like the child has an accent?
A mother shared with me that everyone thinks they’re from another part of the country.
Their son’s articulation disorder sounds like an accent. Whenever they meet people who have met their son first, they have to explain that they are really locals. What is the significance of sounding like you belong to your own speech community? Shouldn’t children have the right to represent their regional identity through their speech?

Do the errors affect language development?
Difficulty producing sounds that represent early developing grammatical morphemes and semantic relationships could affect expressive language growth.
•    Inflectional morpheme ‘-s’ uses the sounds /s/ and /z/ for plural forms and third person singular present tense forms.
Listen to the difference to the ending of “cats” and “dogs”. Even though we use the grapheme (letter) ‘-s’ for both sounds, we say “catsss” and “dogzzz”. The same thing happens with the verbs “walks” and “sings”. Even though we write “s”, we say “walksss” and “singzzz”. Either voiceless /s/ or voiced /z/ is used depending on the voicing of the vowel that comes before it.
•    Derivational morpheme ‘-er’ allows you to turn a verb into a noun, such as “dance” to “dancer”, or “teach” to “teacher”. We use ‘-er’ to compare “big” to “bigger”. We use ‘-est’ with a consonant cluster for the superlative, the “biggest”.

Are the errors on highly used sounds?
Some of the most commonly used consonants are /r/, /s/, /n/, and /t/. Given that these sounds appear in the most number of words, errors in their production affect speech intelligibility.

Are the errors odd or unusual?
Sometimes children produce atypical distortions. A bilateral lisp, made by spreading the lips and keeping the tongue flat, makes /z/ into a buzzing hum. Productions that don’t sound like speech sounds are highly noticeable to listeners.

Does the child have anatomical or motor muscle difficulties?
Any structural difference or functional difficulty has the potential to cause compensatory patterns that may become maladaptive and fossilized (resistant to change).

Can you say your name correctly?
•    Safety: Stating your own name accurately is a safety issue if you are lost or separated from a group. Producing your name correctly reduces your risk in an emergency situation.
•    Social: introducing yourself to make new friends requires stating your name
•    Psychological: we have self-identify tied to our names

Does the child have medical needs?
•    A young boy, who had asthma, was playing outside at recess. Sensing the need for his inhaler, he asked a teacher if he could go into the classroom to get it. The adult did not understand his speech and assumed that he wanted to go to inside for an inappropriate reason. Fortunately, other children intervened to explain the situation. The inability to state a physical or medical need is a potential safety issue.

Individuals are unique. Making decisions about when a child does or does not need services involves considering multiple factors. What factors would you want a clinician to consider for your own child?


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About this Blog

    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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