What Is Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy is a type of therapy provided by a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to help a child learn how to produce specific speech sounds.  SLPs also provide therapy for other skills, including language, fluency, social/pragmatics, etc.  Often all of these therapies will be included under the name “speech therapy” but the most specific definition of “speech” refers to just the sounds a child is producing.

Who needs speech therapy?

All children go through periods of time when they have difficulty producing certain speech sounds.  In fact, certain sound errors are considered “normal” until a certain age.  However, once that age is reached, if a child continues to produce those sounds in error, that child may need more help to learn to produce the sound correctly.  That’s where an SLP comes in!  Research studies have been conducted to determine at what age certain sounds should be mastered by.  Since each of the studies points to slightly different ages, state education boards will each adopt their own standards for what ages children will qualify for services within the public schools.  Here is an example of the Missouri Department of Education’s norms:

Sounds Acquired by…

  • Age 3
    • /m/, /h/, /w/, /p/, /b/
  • Age 3 and a half
    • /n/, /d/, /k/, /f-/ (the /f/ at the beginning of words)
  • Age 4
    • /t/, /g/
  • Age 5
    • /j/ (that’s the “y” sound like “yellow”, in your speech therapy reports it will be written as /j/)
  • Age 5 and a half
    • /-f/ (the /f/ at the ends of words), /v/, /tw/ (like “twin”), /kw/ (like “queen”)
  • Age 6
    • /l-/ (the /l/ at the beginning of words), /pl/ (like “plane”), /bl/, /kl/, /gl/, /fl/
  • Age 7
    • Voiced “th” (like “the” and “this”), /s/, /z/, “sh”, “ch”, “j” (like “judge”), /-l/ (the /l/ at the ends of words), /sp/, /st/, /sk/ /sm/, /sn/, /sw/, /sl/, /skw/, /spl/, /spr/, /str/, /skr/
  • Age 8
    • Voiceless “th” (like “thanks” and “thumb”), “zh” (like the end of the word “beige”), /r/, /r/ blends (like “brush”, “cry”, etc)

What is Speech Therapy and How Does it Work?

There are several different approaches that a speech therapist could choose to use to teach your child better articulation.  The approach chosen will be based on your child’s particular speech errors.  Here are the main two approaches to speech sound therapy:

Articulation Approach

In the articulation approach to speech development, the speech therapist will target a specific sound and teach that sound from the ground up.  Here are the steps:

  1. Teach the child to produce the sound in isolation (by itself).  The therapist will use different cues to try to help the child produce the sound correctly.  For example, the therapist may tell the child to keep his tongue behind his teeth while producing the /s/ sound, or she may use a tongue depressor to hold down the tip of a child’s tongue to help him produce the /k/ sound in the back of the mouth.  Once the child can produce the sound by itself…
  2. Put the sound into simple syllables.  The speech therapist will help the child put the sound together with different vowels to make simple syllables, such as: “kuh, kah, koo, uck, eek, ick”
  3. Say the sound into simple words.
  4. Use the sound in simple sentences.
  5. Practice “carry-over”.  During this phase, the speech therapist will help the child remember to use the sound consistently, such as while reading or describing pictures in a book, during a craft activity, while talking with friends, etc.

This is a very straight-forward approach that parents can often do at home to help their child learn a new sound.  Just follow the steps above and move to the next step when the child can do the previous one most of the time.

Phonology Approach

This approach is a bit more complicated as the speech therapist is addressing a whole class of sounds.  For example, the therapist may choose to target all the fricative sounds (long sounds like /s/, /z/, /f/, /v/, etc.).  They will start by contrasting long and short sounds (like /s/ vs. /t/, /f/, vs. /p/) and move toward producing these sounds correctly.  If you’re wanting to work on sounds at home, I recommend the Articulation Approach unless your speech therapist has specifically taught you how to use this approach.

What should I do if I’m worried about my child’s speech?

The best thing you can do for your child is to find a speech-language pathologist (a.k.a. speech therapist) and set up a screening.  The speech therapist will be able to tell you if your child is developing speech sounds appropriately or if therapy is required.  However, if you’re looking for something to do in the meantime or if your child doesn’t yet qualify for services and you’d like to give him some extra help now, follow these steps:

  1. Pick one sound and teach your child to produce that sound by itself (“ssss”).  If your child can’t do that one after practicing for a while, try a different sound for now.
  2. Once your child can produce the sound by itself, try pairing it with vowels to produce non-sense syllables.
  3. Once your child can do that, try saying the sound in simple words.
  4. Move to saying those words in sentences (have your child make up a sentence about a target word)
  5. If your child can say the sound correctly in sentences but isn’t yet using it correctly in conversation, do some sit-down activities where the goal is to speak about a topic while remembering to use that one sound correctly.  This could be reading a book, describing pictures, telling about a past event, etc.

Also, don’t forget to read to your child every day!  You can raise your child’s awareness about a sound he is not producing correctly by pointing it out during the story.  (Example: “Hey listen! There’s a cow.  Cow starts with “k”.  Cow.”)  

Purchase Everything You Need for Articulation Therapy Here!

I have put together an eBook of resources that will include everything you need to do articulation therapy at home or in speech therapy.  It’s called The All-In-One Articulation Program and Materials Kit. Inside, you’ll find everything you need to do articulation therapy, from screening, to artic cards, to generalization and carry-over programs.  Just print, cut, and you’re ready to go!

Click Here to Get your Copy of the Articulation Kit!