When you toddler is unintelligible.

When you toddler is unintelligible.

When my son was a toddler he said “doddles” instead of goggles, “tote” for Coke, and “tows” for cows. It was really cute and in fact today “doddles” has become a family word which we all use.

However, on the whole, most people understood what he was saying and by the time he was 3 and a bit, he had outgrown his speech idiosyncrasies and he spoke in clear sentences.

What my son was doing was typical of many young children because they have difficulty co-ordinating the movement of the oral and vocal muscles and they therefore simplify the production of words. These simplifications are not random but predictable. These sound pattern errors are called Phonological Processes.

For example, very young children (ages 1 to 3) may say “wa-wa” for “water” or “ephant” for “elephant.”

Other children may leave out the final sound in words (for example,“pi” for “pig” or “ha“ for “hat.”)



In order to identify when intervention is necessary for toddler’s speech, the following can be used as a guideline.

  • Parents should understand at least 50% of what a toddler is saying by age two
  • Parents should understand about 90% of what their child is saying by age three.
  • Strangers should understand about 50% of what the child is saying at age three.
  • Strangers should understand about 100% of what the child is saying by age four.

Many parents ask, “How should I respond if I don’t know what he’s saying?”  My advice is to reword what you think he intended to say to ask for clarification.  Hopefully, he’ll try to correct you if your guess was wrong.  Other advice is to encourage your child to SHOW you what he wants or is talking about.  If your child becomes overly frustrated when you don’t understand, you may be able to slide by with nodding or offering a general comment such as, “Oh!”  However, if your child is adamant about telling you something or asking you for things you don’t understand, “faking it” may not work.


What should you do when your child mispronounces a word? 

Model the word correctly and move on.  Your child asks for, “tate?”  You say, “cake? Do you want cake?”

Being understood is an important part of communicating.  However, until a child’s language skills (sentences that he is using and vocabulary) are age appropriate, intelligibility cannot be the sole focus. Over correcting a 1 or 2 year old child’s speech errors can lead to frustration and a shutdown of progress faster than anything else you can do to a new talker.


What is the difference between articulation and phonology?

Articulation can be defined as the production of a speech sound by the movement of the organs of speech.

If any of these mechanisms are not working properly, weak, damaged, malformed, or out of sync with the rest, then a speech disorder may be classified as an articulation disorder. The age at which a child generally masters specific sounds is tabled below

This chart depicts a range of development and should only be used as a general guide.


Phonology, as discussed above, encompasses the rules of the sound system of language. Some children outgrow these errors; whilst others have errors that persist. This could make speech virtually unintelligible and negatively impact the child’s academic and social success.

Phonological Processes are typically gone by these ages (years; months)

Caroline Bowen  PhD (Speech Language Pathologist)

Pre-vocalic voicing pig = big


Word-final de-voicing pig = pick


Final consonant deletion comb = coe


Fronting car = tar
ship = sip


Consonant harmony mine = mime
kittycat = tittytat


Weak syllable deletion elephant = efant
potato = tato
television =tevision
banana = nana


Cluster reduction spoon = poon
train = chain
clean = keen


Gliding of liquids run = one
leg = weg
leg = yeg


Stopping /f/ fish = tish


Stopping /s/ soap = dope


Stopping /v/ very = berry


Stopping /z/ zoo = doo


Stopping ‘sh’ shop = dop


Stopping ‘j’ jump = dump


Stopping ‘ch’ chair = tare


Stopping voiceless ‘th’ thing = ting


Stopping voiced ‘th’ them = dem




As children stop using phonological processes, their speech becomes more understandable. This allows them to become better communicators.

Your child’s age and intelligibility are key determinants in deciding the course of treatment in most instances.

When in doubt, check it out!

 The earlier intervention occurs, the less the chance of compounding difficulties developing. 






Identifying Children with Auditory Processing Difficulties


The following difficulties may present in the classroom if a child has auditory processing difficulties. If a child presents with difficulties in more than 3 to 4 of these items, referral to a speech & language therapist may be indicated for further assessment.


1)    Following Instructions

  • Copies other children
  • Starts before you’ve finished giving the instruction
  • Asks for repetition (often)
  • Takes time to get going after instructions have been given
  • Completes part of the instruction
  • Inaccurate completion of instructions
  • May appear to have “selective hearing”


2) Speech

  • Imprecise or “slushy” speech
  • Articulation errors
  • Difficulty saying multisyllabic words


3) Reading

  • Guesses at the word from the first letter
  • Guesses at words from surrounding text/pictures
  • Difficulty decoding novel words
  • Phoneme (sound) – Grapheme (letter) confusion
  • Difficulty decoding multisyllabic words e.g. rubbish-bin
  • Blending of syllables or phonemes
  • Fluency is poor
  • Decodes word by word and then struggles to get meaning
  • Poor attention to punctuation
  • Difficulty recalling what has been read


4) Spelling

  • Vowel confusion – particularly i/e
  • Long and short vowel confusion
  • Difficulty with vowel digraphs (ee ea oa etc.)
  • Difficulty learning word families
  • Analysis – syllables or phonemes
  • Poor generalization of spelling rules to unfamiliar words
  • Forgets previously learned spelling
  • Sequencing errors
  • Difficulty with blends
  • Phoneme – Grapheme confusion
  • Weak syllable omission e.g. tephone/telephone
  • Difficulty using punctuation


What is Auditory Processing?

What is Auditory Processing?

I am sure that you know the feeling that there is so much noise you can’t think straight!  Imagine having that feeling all day long!

Auditory processing refers to “how well the ear talks to the brain and how well the brain understands what the ear tells it” (Musiek).

Children with Auditory Processing difficulties may seem to have a hearing problem or “selective hearing.”

In its very broadest sense, Auditory Processing refers to how the central nervous system (CNS) uses auditory information.  Auditory processing refers to the ability to identify, interpret and attach meaning to sound that is heard.  This can be in the absence of a physical hearing loss.

Children with auditory processing difficulties are often easily distracted because they find it difficult to filter out the meaningless background noise and pay attention to the meaningful information.

Auditory Processing difficulties may cause delay in development of receptive and expressive communication skills. The disorder may be evident in a toddler or preschooler (i.e. failure to follow commands correctly, difficulty following conversation, difficulty reciting nursery rhymes), but it will be much more evident when the child begins more formal education (Grade 1- Foundation Phase). Reading and writing difficulties are likely to emerge due to the child’s confusion regarding speech sounds.

Phonological processing is an auditory processing skill.  It refers to the ability to reflect on and manipulate the sound structure of an utterance as distinct from its meaning. The terms auditory processing and phonological processing are therefore often used interchangeably.

A child with auditory processing/phonological processing difficulties may present with the following difficulties:

Speech production errors, including:

  • Omitting a sound or sounds in spoken words
  • Speaking in an inconsistent speech pattern
  • Mispronouncing frequently-occurring words
  • Making articulation errors in speech
  • Have difficulty in producing rhyming words

Auditory perception errors include:

  • Misperceiving a word to be a similar-sounding word to that which was spoken.
  • Difficulty paying attention to and remembering information presented orally
  • Difficulty carrying out multistep directions
  •  Poor listening skills
  • Need more time to process information

Reading and written language problems, including difficulties in:

  • Learning pre-literacy skills
  • Sounding out words as they read
  • Substituting words with the same initial letter when reading
  • Using inventive spelling beyond the early primary grades
  • Omitting vowels when spelling words

Early intervention is the key.

When in doubt, check it out.


Why are so many children having speech therapy?

Why are so many children having speech therapy?

As a mom myself, I’ve heard the parking lot conversations about how every second child is in speech therapy or occupational therapy or both. But as a caring and concerned parent, you want what is best for your child and so you “cough up” and follow the advice you’ve been given (usually).


Apart from the obvious articulation (pronunciation) difficulties, which may require remediation, auditory perception/processing, phonological processing and language difficulties can often be more subtle. I hope to cover these topics in later blogs.

Early intervention is the key! The longer the difficulties are left untreated, the bigger the gaps become and the greater the impact on later learning and scholastic ability.

Fortunately, educators are far more aware of these difficulties. In the past, children with difficulties, were labeled as “naughty”, “stupid”, “disruptive”, and moved to the back of the class where they were left to their own devices. The increase in identification results in more children receiving early intervention.

Security concerns in our modern society, means that children are not playing outside as much as they used to. They are not climbing on jungle gyms, climbing trees, riding bikes, walking to the shops and engaging in daily activities to stimulate the development of auditory perceptual and language skills.

Working parents have become the norm and children are left with care-givers whose first language is often not the child’s mother tongue.

The demands of our busy lives often preclude both quality and quantity time with our children. The need for “down time” often results in the use of “technological baby sitters” (TV, play station, Wii, iPad and the like). The very nature of these technical advances inhibits the development of necessary language skills because children become passive learners.





Furthermore, they do not develop the necessary skills to attend in an interactive classroom and attention and concentration difficulties result. Technology can inhibit the development of social language and communication because it lacks the inherent reciprocal nature that effective communication skills demand.

Play is often a re-enactment of television programmes and lacks the imagination and creativity required to develop language and thought.

Board games and language/word games are becoming less popular in favour of quieter more “controlled” activities. The need for instant gratification that is obtained from the push of a button on a computer/TV game is outweighing the reward of delayed gratification that is achieved by strategising and planning in a board game.

This being said, I am by no means banishing the use of technology. In fact, I am a firm advocate of it; this blog being a case in point. My view in this regard is; everything in moderation and everything with MEDIATION.