What is a Phonological Disorder?
Most children naturally acquire and master the rule-governed sound system of their language. When a child has difficulty understanding the rule-governed sound system of his/her language, then he/she may have a phonological disorder. A phonological disorder is a disorder of language and more complex than a simple articulation deficit. A severe phonological disorder can greatly impact the child's intelligibility. Simply stated, a child with a phonological disorder may mispronounce a sound in certain words, yet pronounce it clearly in others. For example, the /s/ in sick may be pronounced clearly, but the /s/ in juice may be pronounced as jush. In another example, a child may mispronounce whole groups of sounds. /s, f, sh/ may all be pronounced as the sound /t/, and so feet becomes teet, ship becomes tip, and chew becomes to. Sometimes a child may drop sounds at the end of a word, even though he/she can pronounce that sound perfectly when the sound is at the beginning of a word. When a child drops sounds at the end of a word, intelligibility is greatly impacted because words that have plural endings (babies), possessive endings (mommy's) or tenses (walked) are important pieces of information that wouldn't be relayed to the listener. A speech language pathologist can characterize the disorder as slight, mild, moderate, or severe and also identify if it is co-occurring with another disorder such as an articulaton disorder.
A child with a phonological disorder is more at risk for developing problems when
learning to read or spell and may be at risk for other learning disabilities. Early intervention is key.
There are substantial benefits to speech therapy. Many children will learn to speak normally in a few years or much less, depending on the severity of the case, maturity level of the child and if there are other co-occurring disorders. As children get older, most begin to understand that others are having difficulty understanding them and they will work harder to correct their sound errors. As the child enters school, a phonological disorder could impact his/her ability to fully participate in the classroom.