Kids Health Info

Articulation and phonological disorders

  • Articulation and phonology refer to the way sound is produced. A qualified speech pathologist should assess a child if there are any concerns about the quality of a child's sounds, the way they talk, or their ability to be understood.

    A child with either an articulation disorder or a phonological disorder is often difficult to understand.

    Articulation and articulation disorders

    Articulation is a term which refers to making sounds. The production of sounds involves the coordinated movements of the lips, tongue, teeth, palate (top of the mouth) and respiratory system (lungs). There are also many different nerves and muscles used for speech.

    When young children are growing, they develop speech sounds in a predictable order. A child with an articulation disorder has problems making sounds and forming particular speech sounds properly. One example is lisping (when s sounds like th). A child may not be able to produce a particular sound, for example the 'r' sound, saying 'wabbit' instead of 'rabbit'. These disorders are generally very specific and need therapy from a trained speech pathologist.

    Often children are diagnosed with an articulation disorder when in actual fact they have a phonological disorder (see below) or even dyspraxia. This can often affect the treatment or outcome of therapy.

    Phonology and phonological disorders

    Phonology refers to the pattern in which sounds are put together to make words. This means that a child can produce a sound correctly, but may use it in the wrong position in a word, or in the wrong word. For example a child may use the 'd' sound instead of the 'g' sound, and so they say 'doe' instead of 'go'.

    It can be much more difficult to understand children with phonological disorders compared to children with pure articulation disorders. Children with phonological disorders may confuse several phonological rules. Phonological disorders and phonemic awareness disorders (the understanding of sounds and sound rules in words) have been linked to ongoing problems with language and literacy. It is therefore important to correctly assess a child's speech difficulties so that the child gets the most appropriate treatment.

    Brain injuries

    Pure articulation or phonological difficulties are generally not a direct result of brain injury. If problems are found after a brain injury, it is usually because the child already had some underlying difficulties. However, children with an acquired brain injury may have different difficulties with their speech patterns. These are generally caused by dyspraxia or dysarthria. Some children with acquired brain injuries may also have difficulties with literacy and language.

    Diagnosis and treatment

    A qualified speech pathologist should assess your child if there are any concerns about their speech. A speech pathologist can identify the cause, and plan treatment with the child and family.

    Key points to remember

    • Articulation and phonology refer to the making of speech sounds.
    • Children with phonological disorders or phonemic awareness disorders may have ongoing problems with language and literacy. It is therefore important to correctly assess a child's speech difficulties so that they get the best possible treatment.
    • If there are any concerns about your child's speech, ask your family doctor to arrange an assessment with a qualified speech pathologist.

    For more information


    Developed by the RCH  Paediatric Rehabilitation Service.  Based on the Articulation and Phonological Disordersfactsheet from the Brain InjuryService at Westmead Children's Hospital (with permission). First published Nov 2006. Updated September 2012.

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.