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Articulation and Phonological Disorders

Disclaimer: This information sheet is for education purposes only. Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.

What are they?

Both articulation and phonology refer to the physiological production of speech sounds, ie. the individual sounds in speech, not the meaning and content of speech. When a child presents with either an articulation disorder or a phonological disorder they are often difficult to understand.


Articulation is a general term which refers to the production of individual sounds. The production of sounds involves the coordinated movements of the lips, tongue, teeth & palate and respiratory system. This includes a variety of nerves and muscles used for speech production.

All speech sounds (phonemes) are acquired in a predictable developmental order.

An articulation disorder refers to a child who has difficulty producing and forming particular speech sounds correctly eg. lisping or not being able to produce a particular sound eg. "r". These disorders are generally very specific in nature and require therapy from a trained speech pathologist.

Often children are labelled as having an articulation disorder when in actual fact they have a phonological disorder (refer below) or even dyspraxia. This can often effect the treatment or outcomes of a child's therapy.

Phonology / Phonological disorders

Phonology refers to the pattern in which sounds are strung together to produce words. This means that a child can produce a sound correctly but may use it in the incorrect position in a word eg. a child always use "d" sound for the "g" sound ie. "doe" for "go". Phonological processes generally simplify sounds or sound sequences such as syllables and words. There are many types of phonological disorders and these area generally effected by three primary areas, including:

Phonological disorders may have a far greater impact on a child's intelligibility than pure articulation disorders as the child may confuse several phonological rules.

Phonological disorders and phonemic awareness disorders (the understanding of sounds and sound rules in words) have been linked to on - going language and literacy difficulties. It is therefore important to correctly assess a child's speech difficulties so that the correct intervention can be arranged.

Who should assess and treat my child?

A qualified speech pathologist should assess a child if there are any concerns regarding the quality, intelligibility or production of a child's speech.

Pure articulation or phonological difficulties are generally not a direct symptom of brain injury. In most cases a child may have had some underlying difficulties prior to the brain injury occurring.

Children with an acquired brain injury may however have difficulties with their speech patterns and these are generally caused by dyspraxia or dysarthria. Some children with acquired brain injuries may have difficulties with literacy acquisition and language, these children generally present with specific phonological awareness disorders.

The Children's Hospital at Westmead Rehabilitation Department
The Children's Hospital at Westmead
Cnr Hawkesbury Rd & Hainsworth St, Westmead
Locked Bag 4001, Westmead, 2145
Tel: (02) 9845 2132 - Fax: (02) 9845 0685

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This document was published on Friday, 6 June 2003

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