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Speech Sound Disorder: Types, Causes, Treatment

Speech sound disorder

Speech sound disorder is a communication challenge that can impact a person’s ability to articulate and pronounce speech sounds accurately. This condition encompasses various types, each characterized by specific speech sound errors. 

The causes of speech sound disorder can be multifaceted, stemming from genetics, neurological factors, or environmental influences.

Early intervention is crucial, and speech sound disorder therapy typically involves speech therapy to address sound errors, improve articulation, and enhance overall communication skills. 

In this blog, we’ll delve into the diverse world of Speech Sound Disorders, exploring the various types of this condition, the potential underlying causes, and the effective treatments available.

What Are Speech Sound Disorders?

A speech sound disorder, often called a phonological disorder or articulation disorder, is a communication challenge that hinders a person’s ability to produce speech sounds accurately. These disorders can manifest in various ways, from difficulty pronouncing certain sounds to broader speech clarity and intelligibility issues. 

Speech sound disorders encompass several types, including articulation disorders, where individuals struggle with the physical aspects of sound production, and phonological disorders, which involve issues related to rules and patterns of speech. 

Childhood apraxia of speech, a neurological condition affecting the coordination of speech muscles, is another subtype. Early diagnosis and intervention, often through speech therapy, are crucial in addressing these challenges, helping individuals improve their speech and communication skills, and enhancing their overall quality of life.

Symptoms of Speech Sound Disorder

Symptoms of speech sound disorder can vary in nature and severity, often depending on the specific type and underlying causes. Common signs include difficulty pronouncing certain sounds or substituting one sound for another. 

Articulation disorders manifest with issues like lisping or difficulty forming sounds, which affect speech clarity. In phonological disorders, individuals may struggle with sound patterns, leading to errors in entire groups of sounds. Childhood apraxia of speech presents a profound challenge in coordinating the movements necessary for speech.

Symptoms can encompass both consonant and vowel sounds, affecting speech intelligibility. Children with speech sound disorders might exhibit speech delays, limited vocabulary, or speech sound errors beyond the expected age range. Social and academic consequences can also arise as communication difficulties persist. 

Early identification and intervention, often through speech therapy, are crucial in addressing these symptoms, helping individuals improve their communication skills and ultimately enhancing their ability to express themselves effectively.

Diagnosis of Speech Sound Disorders

Speech Sound Disorder treatment

Diagnosing speech sound disorders is a complex process that requires the expertise of speech-language pathologists (SLPs). It typically begins with a comprehensive assessment, which involves multiple components. 

First, a thorough case history is collected, including information on the individual’s speech development and family history of communication disorders. A hearing assessment might be necessary to rule out hearing impairments contributing to speech issues.

The core of the diagnosis involves a detailed analysis of the individual’s speech sound production. Crucially, the SLP considers the age-appropriateness of speech sounds and the impact of speech sound errors on the individual’s overall communication abilities.

Once diagnosed, the SLP can develop a personalized treatment plan to address the individual’s unique needs, aiming to improve their speech sound production and overall communication skills. Early diagnosis and intervention are critical to effective treatment and successful outcomes.

Causes of Speech Sound Disorders

The causes of speech sound disorders are multifaceted, often involving a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors.

  • Genetic Predisposition: Individuals can be genetically predisposed to speech sound abnormalities, as these conditions can run in families. Genetic factors can affect the development of speech and language skills.
  • Neurological Factors: Speech sound disorders can be linked to neurological or developmental disorders. Childhood apraxia of speech, for instance, is a neurological disorder that hinders the brain’s ability to coordinate the precise movements required for speech.
  • Hearing Loss: Hearing impairments can disrupt a person’s ability to perceive and reproduce speech sounds accurately, leading to speech sound errors.
  • Environmental Influences: A lack of exposure to appropriate speech models or language-rich environments during critical developmental stages can contribute to speech sound disorders. Environmental factors such as exposure to multiple languages or socioeconomic factors can also play a role.
  • Structural Abnormalities: Physical issues in the oral and facial structures can hinder the production of speech sounds, leading to articulation disorders.

Types of Speech Sound Disorders

Speech sound disorders encompass a spectrum of communication challenges that affect the accurate production of speech sounds. Each type exhibits distinct characteristics, uniquely affecting speech intelligibility and communication. 

This section will delve deeper into each category, highlighting their defining features!


Disfluency is a term used in speech and communication to describe interruptions or irregularities in the flow of speech. These interruptions can manifest as hesitations, repetitions of words or phrases, prolongations of sounds, or blocks where speech momentarily ceases. 

While some disfluency is normal in everyday speech, excessive or chronic disfluency can indicate a communication disorder, such as stuttering. 

Stuttering is the most well-known form of disfluency and often begins in childhood. It’s characterized by repeating sounds, syllables, or words, tension, and struggle in speech production. 

Effective management and treatment of disfluency typically involve speech therapy, which aims to enhance speech fluency and reduce the impact of these disruptions on a person’s communication and overall well-being. 

It’s essential to understand that dysfluency is a common and treatable condition, and early intervention can significantly improve one’s ability to communicate smoothly and confidently.

Articulation Disorder

An articulation disorder pertains to a speech sound issue that impairs the physical execution and enunciation of speech sounds or phonetic elements. This disorder is characterized by difficulties forming specific consonant and vowel sounds, resulting in unclear or difficult-to-understand speech. 

Articulation errors may involve sound omissions, substitutions, distortions, or additions, leading to imprecise or unintelligible speech.

Articulation disorders often manifest in childhood and can persist into adulthood if left untreated. The causes may vary, including structural issues in the mouth, hearing impairments, or developmental factors. 

These disorders can significantly impact a person’s communication and social interactions, potentially affecting self-esteem and confidence.

Speech-language pathologists work with patients to identify and target specific sound errors, helping them learn the correct tongue, lip, and jaw movements required for accurate sound production. With proper treatment and early intervention, many individuals with articulation disorders can improve their speech clarity.

Phonological Disorder

Phonological disorder is a form of speech sound disorder that primarily concerns the rules and patterns governing the use of speech sounds in a language. 

Unlike articulation disorders that involve difficulties with the physical production of specific sounds, phonological disorders revolve around problems with the cognitive aspects of language, specifically in understanding and applying the phonological rules that dictate how sounds function in a given language.

Individuals with phonological disorders may exhibit systematic errors in speech, such as simplifying complex sound patterns, substituting one sound for another in certain contexts, or omitting specific sounds altogether. 

These errors can lead to reduced speech clarity and intelligibility, affecting a person’s communication ability.

Phonological disorders often manifest in early childhood, and while some degree of sound simplification is typical in young children, the persistence of these patterns beyond age-appropriate stages can indicate a phonological disorder. 

Voice Disorder

Voice disorder is a condition that pertains to a disruption in an individual’s voice’s pitch, volume, quality, or resonance. These disruptions can result in atypical voice characteristics, leading to difficulties in communication and potential physical discomfort or pain during speaking. 

Voice disorders can manifest in various ways, such as hoarseness, breathiness, strain, pitch irregularities, or a complete loss of voice.

The causes of voice disorders are diverse and may include factors like vocal abuse, overuse, and misuse, as well as medical conditions like laryngitis, vocal cord nodules, or neurological disorders. Lifestyle factors, environmental irritants, and stress can also contribute to voice problems.

The diagnosis of a voice disorder typically involves an evaluation by an otolaryngologist and, in some cases, a speech-language pathologist. Treatment approaches vary according to the specific disorder and its underlying cause.

Common interventions include voice therapy, vocal hygiene practices, and, in some cases, surgery.


Apraxia is a neurological condition affecting a person’s ability to plan and execute purposeful, coordinated movements, particularly in speech. 

Specifically, childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a developmental speech disorder that results in significant challenges in forming and sequencing the precise movements necessary for clear speech. 

CAS is not typically associated with muscle weakness but rather a disruption in the brain’s communication with the speech muscles.

Children with CAS often exhibit inconsistent speech sound errors, struggle with sound transitions, and may have difficulty with expressive language. 

These difficulties can result in speech that is difficult to understand, leading to frustration for both the child and those trying to communicate with them. 

Treatment primarily involves speech therapy to improve motor planning and coordination for accurate sound production and clearer speech. Early intervention is crucial, as therapy can significantly improve a child’s speech and communication abilities.

Treatment of Speech Sound Disorder

Treating speech sound disorders is vital in helping individuals overcome communication challenges and improve their quality of life. Early intervention, whether articulation disorders, phonological disorders, or childhood apraxia of speech, is key to success. Speech therapy, led by experienced professionals, is central to addressing these disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling with speech sound disorders, don’t hesitate to seek help. Reach out to BVPS to access the support and expertise needed for effective treatment and enhanced communication skills!


Are you someone who identifies as neurodivergent? Dr. Burns and her team take a neuroaffirmative approach in their work to meet neurodivergent individuals where they are in a safe and validating environment.