Articulation or speech sound production is the process of using the lips, tongue, teeth, palate and airflow to produce the sounds heard in speech. It is important to correct speech sound errors early, so that incorrect patterns do not become a lifelong habit.
When children do not produce speech sounds correctly at school, they have difficulty succeeding academically. Teachers and peers will have difficulty understanding what the child says. The errored speaking pattern can also result in difficulties with decoding words during reading activities and misspellings in written work. Physically, when some error patterns are left untreated during developmental years, teeth can become misaligned due to poor tongue placement when speaking, the jaw becomes elongated, and facial structure is affected by incorrect speaking patterns (reference: Speech Dynamics, Char Boshart). Socially, children with speech sound errors are often the object of teasing and ridicule. In the adult world, people with speech sound errors tend to be perceived as less intelligent, and less capable of performing adequately in the workplace. Untreated speech errors can limit career choices and opportunities as an adult.
Children develop the ability to produce all speech sounds correctly quite early in life. A speech therapist becomes concerned when a child reaches the typical age of mastery for a given sound, but still has difficulty producing it in words, sentences or conversation. A list of norms (Sanders, 1972) for sound mastery is listed below; however, in my experience, a majority of children produce and master these sounds much earlier. All children should be able to produce all speech sounds by age 8.
Speech therapists also become concerned when a child’s errors are particularly noticeable either visually or auditorally or when their speaking patterns contain many errors or what we call phonological processes. Phonological processes are simplifications of speech that very young children use to learn language. As children develop, they learn the appropriate sound rules and the simplified patterns or phonological processes diminish. Numerous phonological error patterns that persist beyond the age of 5 are of concern to the speech therapist.
For speech sound production, a disability must be proven in order to qualify a student for services in the public school system. Minor errors or errors common to children of a given age group are not considered a handicapping condition. Private therapy companies can provide services to individuals when there are concerns regarding minor speech errors that are not considered disabling by public school definitions.
Click this link to access customary age of acquisition for English speech sounds: Sound Acquisition Norms