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Articulation vs. Phonological Disorder: What's the Difference?

Articulation vs. Phonological Disorder: What's the Difference?

Posted on March 27th, 2024.

Navigating the intricacies of speech sound disorders can be daunting, especially when distinguishing between articulation and phonological disorders.

An articulation disorder pertains to having difficulties with the physical production of speech sounds.

Conversely, a phonological disorder involves challenges in understanding and organizing the rules of speech sounds within a language system. 

While both disorders affect speech clarity, they differ in their underlying causes and treatment approaches. 

In this blog post, we'll explore the distinctions between articulation vs phonological disorder, shedding light on their characteristics, common errors, and treatment options.

 Whether you're a concerned parent, educator, or individual seeking clarity on speech-related issues, gaining insight into these disorders can empower you to make informed decisions regarding therapy and support.

What is an Articulation Disorder?

An articulation disorder is a speech disorder characterized by difficulties in producing speech sounds accurately. These difficulties often stem from challenges in the motor aspects of speech production, such as muscle coordination and control. Individuals with articulation disorders may struggle to articulate certain sounds, resulting in errors or distortions in their speech. These errors can impact speech intelligibility and may affect communication in various settings. 

Understanding the specific types of errors characteristic of an articulation disorder is essential for targeted intervention. Let's delve into the primary types of articulation errors, each presenting unique challenges and characteristics.

Types of Articulation Errors

An articulation disorder involves difficulties producing speech sounds accurately due to problems with the motor aspects of speech production. 

Here are how articulation errors are commonly categorized:

  • Omissions/Deletions: Certain sounds are omitted or deleted, resulting in incomplete words. Examples include saying "ba" for "bath" or "geen" for "green."
  • Substitutions: One or more sounds are substituted for others, leading to errors in pronunciation that can hinder meaning. For example, saying "fum" for "thumb."
  • Additions: Extra sounds are added or inserted into words, resulting in a less precise pronunciation. An example is saying "puh-lane" for "plane."
  • Distortions: The overall quality of speech sounds are altered, leading to a distorted speech pattern. Common distortions include a lateral lisp where speech sounds slushy or a frontal/interdental lisp where 's' sounds like 'th.' Distortions with 'r' are also very common. 

What are Phonological Disorders?

Phonological disorders involve difficulties understanding and organizing the rules of speech sounds within a language system. Children with phonological disorders may demonstrate errors in patterns of speech sounds rather than individual sounds.

Common Phonological Errors

Phonological errors can manifest in various ways, affecting speech intelligibility and communication. Here are some common phonological errors to be aware of:

  • Backing: This error occurs when sounds made with the tongue tip at the front of the mouth, such as 't' and 'd,' are substituted with sounds produced with the back of the tongue or back of the mouth, like 'k' and 'g.' For example, saying "koy" instead of "toy" or "goo" instead of "do." It's important to note that backing is not part of typical speech development for any age group. Therefore, if backing is a common speaking pattern used by the child, a speech therapy evaluation is likely warranted since this could be a sign of more severe phonological deficits.
  • Fronting: Sounds produced in the back of the mouth, such as 'k' and 'g,' are replaced with sounds made in the front of the mouth, like 't' and 'd.' Examples are saying "take" for "cake" or "doe" for "go." Fronting typically resolves by age 3-4 years.
  • Gliding: This error involves replacing the 'r' sound with a 'w' sound and the 'l' sound with 'w' or 'y' sound. For instance, saying "wide" for "ride" or "wittle" for "little." Gliding typically resolves by age 5-6 years.
  • Assimilation: One consonant sound in a word takes on features of another sound in the same word. For example, "packpack" instead of "backpack" or "lello" for "yellow." Assimilation typically resolves by age 3-4 years.
  • Weak Syllable Deletion: An unstressed syllable in a word is omitted, affecting the word's clarity. For instance, saying "nana" instead of "banana" or "tato" for "potato." Weak syllable deletion typically resolves by age 3-4 years.

Now, let's compare articulation vs. phonological disorder to gain a deeper understanding of these speech disorders.

Comparing Articulation vs. Phonological Disorder

When discerning between articulation and phonological disorders, several criteria can help distinguish between the two. Understanding these differences is essential for accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plans. Let's explore the key criteria:

Area of Difficulty

In articulation disorder, the primary challenge lies at the phonetic level in the physical production of individual speech sounds. Individuals with this disorder struggle to coordinate the precise movements of the articulators, such as the tongue, lips, and jaw, required to produce specific sounds accurately.

In contrast, phonological disorder revolves around challenges at the phonemic level in understanding and organizing the rules governing speech sounds within a language system. Rather than focusing on individual sounds, the difficulty lies in mastering sound patterns, phonological rules, and the organization of speech sounds in words and sentences. Thus, if the child does not correctly produce the sound at the single word level--for example, incorrectly says "tea" for "key"--but is able to accurately produce the sound by itself--for example, easily pronounces 'k' in isolation--it's likely that the child presents with a phonological disorder.

Scope of Error

Articulation disorder entails errors such as substitutions, omissions, distortions, or additions of individual speech sounds. These errors may affect only a few sounds. 

Phonological disorder presents as consistent or predictable patterns of sound substitutions, assimilations, or deficits in syllable structure that affect multiple sounds or sound sequences. These errors are known as phonological processes. Phonological processes are simplifications of adult-like speech and the processes should be systematically suppressed as the child grows older. When simplifications persist beyond the typical age expected, the speech deficits reflect difficulties in mastering the rules and patterns governing speech sounds in language.

Impact on Speech

The primary impact of articulation disorder is on the clarity and precision of speech production. Individuals with this disorder may have difficulty being understood due to inaccuracies in their articulation of specific sounds.

Phonological disorder affects both speech intelligibility and language development. Errors in sound patterns can hinder communication by making speech difficult to understand, and they may also influence the acquisition and use of language structures.

Underlying Causes

Articulation disorders result from motoric deficits in the physical coordination required for speech production. A pure articulation disorder has no known cause. There are other speech sound disorders that have an organic cause such as dysarthria, apraxia, cleft palate, or hearing deficits. However, these speech disorders are different from a traditional articulation disorder because their cause is known. 

Phonological disorders, on the other hand, typically arise from difficulties in phonological processing—the ability to recognize, manipulate, and organize speech sounds within the language system. These difficulties may be influenced by linguistic factors, cognitive processing deficits, or language-learning environments.

Treatment Approaches

Treatment for articulation disorders often focuses on improving the accuracy and coordination of speech sound production through targeted exercises, drills, and practice activities. Speech-language pathologists work to strengthen the articulatory muscles and refine motor skills to enhance speech clarity.

In contrast, treatment for phonological disorders targets the underlying difficulties in phonological processing and sound organization. Therapy may involve teaching phonological awareness skills, such as recognizing and manipulating speech sounds, as well as practicing correct sound patterns and rules within meaningful contexts.

By considering these criteria, speech-language pathologists can differentiate between articulation and phonological disorders and develop targeted interventions to address each individual's specific needs effectively. But first, let's delve into the signs and symptoms of functional speech sound disorders.

Signs and Symptoms of Functional Speech Sound Disorders

Functional speech sound disorders encompass a range of difficulties in speech sound production that are not attributed to structural or neurological causes. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of these disorders is essential for early identification and intervention. Let's explore the key indicators:

1. Limited Speech Intelligibility

Children with functional speech sound disorders may exhibit reduced speech intelligibility, making it difficult for others to understand their spoken language. They may struggle to articulate specific sounds, resulting in unclear or distorted speech patterns.

2. Difficulty with Speech Sound Patterns

Individuals with functional speech sound disorders may exhibit challenges in mastering speech sound patterns and sequences. They may struggle to produce sound combinations accurately, leading to errors in word pronunciation and phonological patterns.

3. Limited Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness skills, including rhyming, blending, segmenting, and manipulating speech sounds, may be underdeveloped in individuals with functional speech sound disorders. These difficulties can hinder their ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds of language effectively.

4. Persistent Errors

Functional speech sound disorders often manifest as persistent errors in speech sound production, despite repeated exposure to correct models and intervention efforts. Children may continue to exhibit consistent errors in their speech patterns over time.

Identifying these signs and symptoms early on can facilitate timely intervention and support to address functional speech sound disorders effectively.

Now that we've explored the signs and symptoms of functional speech sound disorders, let's delve into effective treatment strategies to support individuals in overcoming these challenges.

Effective Treatment Strategies for Speech Sound Disorders

Speech sound disorders, including articulation and phonological disorders, can significantly impact communication and language development. Fortunately, targeted intervention strategies can help individuals improve their speech clarity and proficiency. Let's explore effective treatment approaches for these disorders:

Articulation Disorder Treatment

Since articulation disorder primarily involves difficulties in producing individual speech sounds accurately due to motor skill issues, treatment strategies may include:

  • Speech Sound Production Practice: Targeted exercises and drills to improve the accuracy and coordination of speech sound production.
  • Articulatory Placement Techniques: Techniques to teach proper tongue, lip, and jaw placement for producing specific sounds correctly.
  • Auditory Discrimination Training: Activities to enhance the ability to distinguish between correct and incorrect productions of speech sounds.

Strategies for Phonological Disorder

Phonological disorder revolves around challenges in understanding and organizing the rules governing speech sounds within a language system. Treatment strategies may include:

  • Phonological Awareness Activities: Exercises to develop awareness of the sound structure of language, including rhyming, blending, segmenting, and manipulating sounds.
  • Minimal Pair Contrasts: Contrasting words that differ by one sound to help individuals distinguish between similar but distinct speech sounds.
  • Pattern-Based Therapy: Targeting specific sound patterns or processes that are error-prone to promote accurate production within meaningful contexts.

Combined Approach

Children with speech sound disorders may exhibit characteristics of both articulation and phonological disorders. In such cases, a combined treatment approach may be necessary, addressing the unique needs of each disorder simultaneously.

Here's how a combined approach can effectively address the unique needs of these individuals:

  • Individualized Assessment: Conducting a thorough assessment to identify the specific speech sound errors and underlying difficulties present in the child's communication skills.
  • Targeted Goal Setting: Establishing clear and measurable treatment goals that address both articulation and phonological aspects of speech production.
  • Sequential Therapy: Implementing therapy techniques that target articulation skills, such as speech sound production practice and articulatory placement, alongside phonological therapy strategies, including phonological awareness activities and minimal pair contrasts.
  • Integration of Strategies: Introducing activities and exercises that promote the integration of articulatory and phonological skills, such as practicing correct sound productions within meaningful language contexts and storytelling activities.
  • Collaborative Approach: Engaging parents, caregivers, and other relevant stakeholders in the therapy process to ensure consistency and reinforcement of learned skills outside of therapy sessions.

Related: What Does a Pediatric Speech Pathologist Do? Decoding a Vital Role

Final Words

Understanding the differences between articulation and phonological disorders is crucial for effective diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, if your child shows both types of speech sound disorders, adopting a combined approach to treatment, can help effectively address the multifaceted nature of the disorders, promoting comprehensive skill development and facilitating improved communication abilities.

At Tryumph Speech Therapy, we specialize in providing personalized speech therapy services tailored to address the unique needs of each individual. Whether you or your loved one is struggling with speech sound disorders, our team is here to help.

Through targeted intervention strategies, including speech sound production practice, phonological awareness activities, and pattern-based therapy, we strive to improve speech clarity, enhance language development, and promote functional communication skills.

If you're ready to take the next step towards transforming speech challenges into triumphs, we invite you to schedule a free discovery call with us. During this call, we'll explain how our therapy works and discuss how we can tailor our services to meet the specific needs of your child. Don't let speech sound disorders hold you back—schedule a free discovery call today.

For inquiries, don't hesitate to contact us at (512) 898-9858 or email us at [email protected]. Transform 'try' into TRYUMPH with Tryumph Speech Therapy.

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