A person has an articulation problem when he or she produces words or sounds incorrectly; listeners cannot understand what is being said or pay more attention to the way the sounds than words themselves.
Most articulation difficulties occur without any obvious physical disability. Difficulty learning early speech sounds may be the root cause. Problems with ears during early childhood may lead to a failure to learn some speech sounds.
Most difficulties can be categorized as an “omission”, a “substitution”, or a “distortion”. An omission could sound like “id” for “lid” or “oo” for “blue.” A substitution might sound like a “w” for an “r” which makes “rascal” sound like “wascal,” or the substitution of “th” for “s” so that “soda” sounds like “thoda.” When the sound simply sounds “wrong”, but sounds like what the person intended, that is called a distortion. Help children by modeling accurate articulation: clearly, with emphasis, repeat the misarticulated word in context; for example, if a child says, “I’d like a thoda,” offer, “Would you like a soda? A grape soda is in the refrigerator. Would you like a grape soda?”
Some children will “outgrow” a functional articulation problem, but some children will need speech therapy. An assessment by a Speech-Language Pathologist will help to determine whether or not a child should receive therapy.
Adults also can be faced with articulation problems and benefit from speech therapy. A “lisp” (substituting ‘th’ for ‘s’), for example, is an easy error to correct and can be life changing. The longer the person has been faced with the difficulty, however, the harder it is to change and so adults will require more practice to change than a child.
Oral-Motor Sequencing Difficulties (apraxia)
This presents similarly to articulation however has the distinction of a general lack of clarity of speech with inconsistencies. Some seemingly difficult words and phrases may be pronounced clearly whereas other words with the same sounds may be in error. Errors are inconsistent with distortions and are impacted by the length and complexity of the sentences.
These are the ages that the sound should be produced correctly 75% of the time by 90% of children: