• Erin Gaul MS, CCC-SLP

What is a Phonological-Articulation Disorder?

There may be some confusion regarding the terms phonological disorder vs. articulation disorder. I admit, it took multiple readings of the same page in an early language textbook for me to completely grasp the difference. This post is aimed to help parents understand what the difference is - should an SLP diagnose your child with one of or both disorders.

Let's define phonology first.

Phonology is the systematic organization of sound patterns, which constitute a language. Phonological awareness is a bit of a broader skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of language such as words, syllables, sounds, rhymes, etc. Phonological processes are defined as the patterns children use to simplify adult speech as they are learning to talk. When a child has a phonological disorder, they have difficulty with using the sounds and patters of speech (phonological processes) expected for their age. For example, children should be producing all syllables in words by the age of approximately four-years-old. If this process persists past four-years-old, they may be diagnosed as having a phonological disorder.

An articulation disorder, on the other hand, is characterized by motor speech difficulty, structural deficiency, and/or overall physical difficulty with making specific sounds. For example, when a child omits the final /s/ on potatoes, but can say the /s/ appropriate in the word "soup," this is not an articulation concern; it is phonological. The child doesn't have physical difficulty producing the sound. If a child has a tongue tie, and cannot make contact with the hard surface (alveolar ridge) behind his teeth for /t, d/ sounds, this would be characterized as an articulation disorder.

It's important to know that sometimes these disorders overlap. It is a common phonological process for a child to substitute /w/ for /r/ until 5-6 years-old. e.g., "Let's wake the leaves" rather than "Let's rake the leaves." This child may also produce /s/ as "th" which is an anterior lisp. They can co-exist!

Still confused? Do you think your child may have a phonological or articulation disorder? Let's talk!


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