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Articulation Disorder: Types, Causes & Signs

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

Is your child not speaking clearly? Is their speech not improving? Do others find it difficult to understand what they are saying? If yes, your child probably has an articulation disorder.

Let’s start with getting to know what articulation is. It is a process of producing sound by using various muscles like lips, tongue, and jaw, and regulating airflow. It helps in communicating and expressing oneself. When the child has difficulty in the production of specific speech sounds, like, they replace ‘th’ with ‘s’, and ‘r’ with ‘w’, the condition is known as an articulation disorder. It is the most common type of speech and language disorder.

Speech sound disorders are quite common and they affect around 8 to 9% of children.

Various types of articulation disorders are-

Articulation disorder is often used in place of speech sound disorders. It is classified under two broad groups, based on the underlying cause, organic disorders, and inorganic disorders.

  • Organic speech sound disorders occur from neurological deformities like dysarthria, developmental abnormalities like cleft palate, and cleft lip, other anomalies, and sensory issues like hearing loss.

  • In functional speech disorder, there is an error in learning how to produce specific sounds.

  • Developmental phonological disorder is when the child replaces sounds like, ‘t’ with ‘c’, they say ‘tar’ in place of ‘car’.

  • Developmental apraxia is a neurological disorder that presents with impaired motor speech programming and the child has difficulty in planning and coordinating his lips, tongue, jaw, and oral muscles to produce speech sounds.

  • Developmental dysarthria is slow, weak, uncoordinated and, imprecise musculature of speech that affects the child's ability to formulate words and pronounce them correctly. It is typically observed following head trauma, cerebral palsy, or cerebral tumors.

Causes of articulation disorder-

There is no proven cause for articulation disorder, but the role of several factors in the causation of speech sound disorder has been postulated.

  • Brain injury can lead to damage to the nervous system of the child, leading to several difficulties like dysarthria, or apraxia.

  • Prenatal and perinatal factors such as maternal stress, poor maternal nutrition, an infection contracted during pregnancy, preterm birth, low birth weight baby, or complicated pregnancy are associated with various speech and language disorders.

  • Recurrent ear infection with discharge has been associated with delayed and abnormal speech development.

  • A male child is more prone to develop articulation disorder when compared to a girl child.

  • Genetics also plays an important role, the chances of a child having an articulation disorder increase if a sibling of the child or some family member has a speech disorder.

  • Developmental deficits like cleft palate can also lead to articulation disorders along with other speech and language-related problems.

  • Neurodevelopmental disorders like Autism, Down syndrome, or Huntington's disease can be associated with articulation disorders too.

Signs and symptoms of articulation disorder-

A child with articulation may present with one or more of the following symptoms-

  • Omission or deletion- the child often omits certain sounds in words, like, saying ‘up’ instead of ‘cup’, and omits ‘sc’ altogether from words like ‘school’ and ‘scratch’.

  • Addition- adding extra sounds and syllabus to words, like, saying ‘puhlay’ instead of ‘play’, and ‘belack’ instead of ‘black’.

  • Substitution- the child substitutes one sound for another, like, ‘th’ for ‘s’, or ‘w’ for ‘r’, they say ‘woar’ instead of ‘roar’.

  • Alteration or distortion- they alter the pronunciation of a sound and it may sound like nothing in the spoken language, for instance, instead of ‘this’ they may say ‘thith’.

  • Syllable level error- they delete the weak syllables from words, like, saying ‘tephone’ instead of ‘telephone’.

If your child has an articulation disorder he may present with the following signs as well,

  • They may avoid reading aloud,

  • They may feel shy talking to others and are often quiet,

  • They get frustrated when they have difficulty saying certain words,

  • They may stop using the words they mispronounce,

  • And it may even have an impact on the self-confidence of the child.

The most common articulation errors are the ‘s’, ‘l’, and ‘r’ sounds.

As per ASHA, the chart below comprises the milestones that a child achieves while developing articulation,

By 3 months

Makes cooing sounds

By 5 months

Laughs and makes playful sounds

By 6 months

Makes speech-like babbling sounds like puh,ba, mi,da

By 1 year

Babbles longer strings of sounds like mimi, upup, bababa

By 3 years

Says m, n, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g, and f in words Familiar people understand the child's speech

By 4 years

Says y and v in words May still make mistakes on the s, sh, ch, j, ng, th, z, l, and r sounds Most people understand the child’s speech

What is the difference between an articulation disorder and a phonological disorder?

Articulation and phonological disorders both fall under the category of functional speech sound disorders. In articulation disorder, the child has difficulty in producing speech sounds correctly, whereas, in phonological disorder, the child will be able to produce the speech sound correctly, but he will have difficulty in using the word at the correct places.

Articulation refers to the process of producing speech sounds, it involves the use of various muscles, jaw, tongue, lips, and regulated airflow. A child with articulation disorder often

  • has difficulty in producing sounds properly, they may have a lisp, which means when they say ‘s’ it sounds like ‘th’.

  • Due to the above-mentioned difficulty, they often replace a few sounds, like, they say ‘wabbit’ in place of 'rabbit' and ‘wice’ in place of ‘rice’.

Phonology is the pattern in which various sounds are put together to form a word, therefore phonological disorders are a bit more complex when compared to articulation disorders, as they are patterns that can be observed in a child’s speech. A child with a phonological disorder often-

  • replaces the words produced in the back of the oral cavity with front sounds, for eg, ‘tar’ for ‘car’, is known as fronting, and vice-versa of this is known as backing, where the child says, ‘gog’ instead of ‘dog’

  • simplifies clusters of words by reducing them to a single sound, instead of saying ‘clap’ they say ‘lap’.

  • omits weak syllables, says ‘tephone’ instead of ‘telephone’.

As these disorders can be associated with many underlying conditions ranging from developmental delay to neurodevelopmental disorders to trauma, it is always necessary that you visit a speech-language pathologist, for a timely evaluation of the child’s condition.

Who to approach if your child has signs indicative of articulation disorder?

Speech-language pathologists play a very important role in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of a person with speech sound disorder. They-

  • Help in diagnosing the presence or absence of a speech sound disorder.

  • formulate special plans for the child diagnosed with speech sound disorder as their needs.

  • raise awareness regarding the role of genetics in a speech sound disorder.

  • counsel the family and caregiver of the child diagnosed with a speech sound disorder regarding the complications associated with the condition and how to overcome the communication issues due to the disorder.

  • promote the prevention of such disorders among individuals and groups at risk.

  • are an integral part of the team that works with those diagnosed with speech sound disorder and their family or caregivers.

Sounderic provides online speech therapy sessions for children with various communication disorders. We would love to help you. Get in touch with us on WhatsApp at +919644466635 or schedule a consultation with us at

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