In this episode of the Speech and Language Kids Podcast, I will teach you about phonological processes and phonological disorders.

What Are Phonological Processes?

When a child is young, he hears the speech sounds of the language used around him, but he can’t yet produce all of them.  Children don’t sound like adults when they speak.  Speaking with all of the sounds of an adult is too overwhelming to a young child’s brain.  To overcome this, the child’s brain creates rules to simplify speech sounds and make words easier to say.  These rules are called phonological processes.

For example, sounds produced in the back of the mouth (like /k/ and /g/) are difficult for young children to say.  Many children simply this by creating a rule (phonological process) that says “If a sound is produced in the back of the mouth, I will change it to be produced in the front of the mouth (where it’s easier).”  Therefore, /k/ becomes /t/ and /g/ becomes /d/.  This is why it’s common for young children to say “titty tat” instead of “kitty cat”.

Keep in mind that these rules are out of the control of the child.  He is not choosing to drop all consonants off the ends of words or change sounds around.  His brain is doing it for him and he is probably not even aware that he’s doing it.

Are Phonological Processes Normal?

Yes!  All children use some phonological processes when they are younger.  This a very normal part of learning to speak.  Here are some example of normal phonological processes:

  • Cluster Reduction (pot for spot)
  • Reduplication (wawa for water)
  • Weak Syllable Deletion (nana for banana)
  • Final Consonant Deletion (ca for cat)
  • Velar Fronting (/t/ for /k/ and /d/ for /g/)
  • Stopping (replacing long sounds like /s/ with short sounds like /t/)
  • Assimilation (changing consonants in a word to be more like other consonants in the word, like gog for dog)

When Should Phonological Processes Go Away?

When children do not grow out of using phonological processes or are using them longer than is expected, they are considered to be a problem.  Most children stop using these processes without any teaching or coaching.  However, some children require speech therapy to learn not to use them.  Here are some ages for when common phonological processes should stop being used:

Phonological Process   ~  Expected Age of Disappearance
Assimilation  ~  3 years
Final Consonant Deletion  ~  3 years
Unstressed Syllable Deletion  ~  3 years
Reduplication  ~  3 years
Velar Fronting  ~  4 years
Stopping of Fricatives  ~  4 years
Cluster Reduction (without /s/)  ~  4 years
Cluster Reduction (with /s/)  ~  5 years

**Data taken from Linguisystems Milestone Guide

What are Atypical or Idiosyncratic Phonological Processes?

As I mentioned before, all children use some phonological processes in their speech.  These are considered natural or normal phonological processes.  However, in children with phonological disorders, we sometimes see other phonological processes being used that are atypical or abnormal.  These are different from the ones we see in typically-developing children.  These can be red flags that there may be something wrong with the child’s phonological system.  Children who use these processes should be checked out by a speech-language pathologist.  Here are some of the atypical phonological processes.

  • Initial Consonant Deletion (og for dog)
  • Backing (moving front sounds like /t/ and /d/ to the back of the mouth like /k/ and /g/)
  • Glottal Replacement (ha er for hammer)
  • Fricatives Replacing Stops (sop for top)
  • Stopping of glides (darn for yarn)
  • Vowel Error Patterns

How to Treat Phonological Disorders:

If a child is having trouble with phonological processes in that he is using normal ones beyond when he should or is using atypical processes, we consider that child to have a phonological disorder.  To treat this problem, our job is to re-train the child’s brain to overwrite the rule that he/she has created.  Here are the steps for fixing this:

  1. Listening:  First, the child must hear the difference between his errors and the correct production.
  2. Speaking Words: Next, the child must say the words without using the phonological process.
  3. Speaking Sentences: Once the child can say the specific words, he must use those words in sentences.
  4. Structured Conversation: Now, the child must practice not using the process during longer speaking situations, such as answering a question or telling about a past event.
  5. Carry-Over: Only once you’ve done all of that can you work on helping the child remember to not use the process in every-day speech.

Download the Guide for Free:

You can download your own guide to teaching a child a whole class of sounds:

Click here to download the free PDF guide to teaching an entire class of sounds.

Reference:

Paul, R. (2007). Language disorders from infancy through adolescence: Assessment & intervention. St. Louis: Mosby.