Developmental Phonological Disorders
Developmental phonological disorders
Developmental Phonological Disorders or “phonological disorder”, are a group of language disorders, whose cause is unclear, that affect children’s ability to develop easily understood speech patterns by the time they are four years old. Developmental phonological disorders can also affect children’s ability to learn to read and spell.
Developmental phonological disorders are known by many names including ‘phonological disorder’ and ‘phonological delay’, and ‘phonological impairment’.
There are two terms that are not included in the list of synonyms. They are “phonological processing disorder” and “phonological processes disorder”. Despite their wide usage, these incorrect (and misleading) terms are not synonyms for developmental phonological disorder. Neither are they names for closely related speech sound disorders. They are “made up” terms that have somehow crept into listservs and discussions. Even SLPs sometimes use them!
A phonological disorder was termed a ‘functional articulation disorder’, and the relationship between it and learning basic school work (like reading and spelling) was not well recognised. Children were just thought to have difficulty in articulating the sounds of speech. Traditional articulation therapy was used to rectify the problem.
‘Developmental phonological disorder’ is not simply a new name for an old problem. The term reflects the influence of psycholinguistic theory on the way speech-language pathologists now understand phonological disorders. Nowadays, the traditional diagnostic classification of ‘functional articulation disorder’ is falling into disuse.
Children with phonological disability are usually able to use, or can be quickly taught to use, all the sounds needed for clear speech – thus demonstrating that they do not have a problem with articulation as such. In other words, we now know that the problem is not a motor speech disorder.
Just to complicate matters, however, some children with developmental phonological disorders also have difficulties with fine motor control and/or motor planning for speech.
Traditional articulation therapy
There is no single definition of traditional articulation therapy. It is a term that is applied to a number of therapy approaches that focus on the motor aspects of speech production, with or without auditory discrimination training.
In essence, traditional articulation therapy involves behavioural techniques, focused on teaching children new sounds in place of error-sounds or omitted sounds, one at a time, and then gradually introducing them (new sounds that is) into longer and longer utterances, and eventually into normal conversational speech.
Traditional therapy techniques, using the format outlined above, have withstood the test of time, and can still be very suitable for children with functional speech disorders.
Children with just a few speech-sound difficulties such as lisping (saying ‘th’ in place of ‘s’ and ‘z’), or problems saying ‘r’, ‘l’ or ‘th’ are usually described as having functional speech disorders. But, you guessed it! There are synonyms for this too. Functional speech disorders are often referred to as ‘mild articulation disorders’ or ‘functional articulation disorders’. Examples include:
The word super pronounced as thooper.
The word zebra pronounced as thebra.
The word rivers pronounced as wivvers.
The word leave pronounced as weave.
The word thing pronounced as fing.
The word those pronounced as vose.
Some of these sound changes are acceptable in a number of English dialects.
Traditional articulation therapy
The traditional approach is unsuitable for children with developmental phonological disorders. SLP’s who include phonological principles in their theory of intervention believe that a ‘phonological approach’ should be used with children with phonological disorders. Phonological approaches to intervention, of which there are several, are called ‘phonological therapy’.
The term phonological therapy refers to the application of phonological principles to the treatment of children with phonological disability. Phonological therapy:
- is based on the systematic nature of phonology;
- is characterised by conceptual, rather than motoric, activities;
- aims to facilitate age-appropriate phonological patterns through activities that encourage and nurture the development of the appropriate cognitive organisation of the child’s underlying phonological system; and,
- has generalisation as its ultimate goal.
In essence, the child with a developmental phonological disorder has a language difficulty affecting their ability to learn and organise their speech sounds into a system of ‘sound patterns’ or ‘sound contrasts’. The problem is at a linguistic level, and there is no impairment to the child’s larynx, lips, tongue, palate or jaw.
Unfortunately, no. Children with “dyspraxia” (Childhood Apraxia of Speech) or a dysarthria have articulation disorders (or motor speech disorders). Children with anatomical (structural) differences such as cleft lip and palate, tongue-tie or other cranio-facial anomalies may also have articulation disorders.
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