What Do Parents Need to Know About a Phonological Processing Disorder?

What Do Parents Need to Know About a Phonological Processing Disorder?



A phonological processing disorder impairs a child’s ability to produce sounds and/or is an impairment of the mental representation of spoken sounds.

A phonological processing disorder, which is in the family of speech sound disorders,  is sometimes mistaken as an articulation disorder, although the two are not the same. To be able to understand what a phonological processing disorder is, the idea of phonological processes should be explained.

What are Phonological Processes?


Phonological processes are the way kids simplify speech when they learn to talk. The coordination needed to speak like an adult (the child’s model for speech) is complex, so children make words simple to say. The way kids simplify their speech is usually in a pattern. This is normal and kids outgrow these patterns or processes by certain ages.

“Final consonant deletion” is a common phonological process, which usually disappears by age 3. We’ve all heard it before:

  • Instead of saying “cat” a child will say “ca”
  • Instead of saying “boat” a child will say “bo”


A phonological processing disorder may be diagnosed when a process (the difference between how a child should speak and how they do speak) continues for too long past the typical age when a child should outgrow it.


Causes and Risk Factors for a Phonological Processing Disorder


While the cause is not known, there are risk factors reported. These include:

  • Gender: Speech sound disorders are more prevalent in males than in females.
  • Complications During Pregnancy: Maternal stress/ infections/complications during pregnancy, and being born preterm or with a low birth weight are associated with a speech delay or disorder.
  • Family History: If a child has other family members (parents, siblings) with speech and/or language issues, they are more often diagnosed with a speech sound disorder.
  • Frequent Ear Infections: Kids who get ear infections often when they are young and learning to talk may have increased risk for impaired speech development.

What is the Difference between Articulation and Phonological Processing Disorder?


An articulation disorder and phonological processing disorder have some similarities and so they may be mistaken for each other.


Here are the general differences between these disorders:

  • Phonological Processing Disorder – Significantly decreased intelligibility, patterns of speech errors
  • Articulation Disorder – Intelligibility is not as severely affected, error is on individual speech sounds (not systemic)

A speech therapist that is experienced in these disorders will be able to differentiate between the two.

What is Treatment for a Phonological Processing Disorder?


The goal for treatment is to increase a child’s intelligibility and have them be understood when they are speaking. Sometimes, when children are not understood, they become frustrated. This can happen when their language or their speech is impaired and others cannot understand them.


Speech therapy will address:

  • Learning how to say individual sounds correctly
  • Modifying the organization of sound to match that of the adult pattern of speech


Treatment for a child with a phonological processing disorder typically  involves targeting the phonological processes and not each individual sound as would happen in traditional articulation therapy. This makes therapy more complex but  usually improves speech intelligibility at a faster rate. If parents suspect that their child may have a phonological processing disorder or are concerned about their speech intelligibility a speech language pathologist should be contacted for a screening or for an evaluation.


When to Get Help from a Speech Therapist for a Possible Phonological Processing Disorder?


If parents are not sure about how intelligible their child should be depending on their age, in general, here are the guidelines:

  • Age 2:  child should be 50% comprehensible to an unknown listener
  • Age 3: 75 percent understandable to a new listener
  • Age 4-5: close to 100 percent intelligible to an unfamiliar listener by 4-5 years old; some articulation problems may continue but they should still be understood by strangers.

What Can Parents Do at Home to Help Their Child with a Phonological Processing Disorder?


Parents can be active participants in their child therapy for a phonological processing disorder. Since therapy is more complex, it is important for parents to get specific suggestions for what to work on at home. Ye, there is always something that parents can do. Here are a few suggestions from the speech therapists at Therapy Works Together:


Auditory Bombardment: Read to your child and emphasize the ends of sounds. Pick a book your child likes and select a few words to emphasize the final sound of a word. For example, you can read the book “One Stuck Duck” and emphasize the words “splish, muck, plop.”


Fix Your Mis-articulations: Parents can model their speech mis-articulations and then correct them. For example: you can say, “I said ‘yam’ but I should have said ‘lamb’, I said, ‘Mary had a little yam’, but to fix it, I should have said ‘Mary had a little lamb'”.


Model Corrections in Conversations: When a parent models correct speech, they should focus on providing their child with a  clear example with no additional explanation or requests for the child to repeat them. If you notice your child saying a sound or using a pattern of speech that is incorrect, repeat the word in conversation correctly. For example:

Child: A tat!

Adult: Yes, that’s a cat. A big cat.

Some Additional Tips for Parents: 


  1. There is no need to emphasize the sound or word. Draw attention to the sound/word by repeating it in as natural a context as possible (e.g., when reading a book).
  2. Do not ask the child to repeat the word back correctly. Just say the word correctly several times while your child is paying attention (e.g., conversation, book reading).

Therapy Works Together – Online Speech Therapy for Children and Adults


We care about every child and adult achieving their speech, language and communication goals. You can start speech therapy online now with a certified speech language therapist. We’ll discuss your personal needs, develop an individualized treatment plan, and schedule affordable online therapy sessions online at your convenience.

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