Understanding and identifying speech difficulties

Difficulties with speech are surprisingly common. For younger children this can merely be a sign of immaturity which will be corrected with time and good modelling. However for some children further support and investigation may be necessary. There are good reasons for tracking these children carefully. Firstly, it can be frustrating for a child who cannot make themselves understood easily by others and could lead to behaviour issues. Sometimes speech sound difficulties lead to learning problems, especially where inaccuracies in speech are reflected in phonics and/or spelling. For example, a child who says ‘cog’ for ‘cot’ may write it this way. As they become older they may become more aware of the differences between themselves and others and this may lead to problems with self-esteem and social relationships.

There are three basic types of speech impairments: articulation disorders, fluency disorders, and voice disorders.

Articulation disorders are errors in the production of speech sounds which may include:

  • Omissions: (bo for boat)
  • Substitutions: (wabbit for rabbit)
  • Distortions: (shlip for sip)

Fluency disorders are difficulties with the rhythm and timing of speech characterized by hesitations, repetitions, or prolongations of sounds, syllables, words, or phrases. This may include:

  • Stuttering: rapid-fire repetitions of consonant or vowel sounds especially at the beginning of words, prolongations, hesitations, interjections, and complete verbal blocks
  • Cluttering: excessively fast and jerky speech

Voice disorders are problems with the quality or use of the voice resulting from disorders in the larynx. Voice disorders are characterised by abnormal production and/or absences of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, and/or duration.


At St John’s we are able to assess children we identify with speech difficulties by using the Speech Link programme.  This not only gives us clear advice on the specific sounds involved but also calibrates the extent of the difficulties.

Modelling back to the child the correct sound/s is the first step in improving speech. However, it is important to do this in a way that doesn’t stigmatise or single out the child. All our teachers and TAs are familiar with this process.

Where the difficulties are more acute or they do not improve with modelling and maturity, there are programmes we can put in place. We have trained teaching assistants who take pairs or groups of children to work on specific sounds, through a range of games and activities. These sessions are fun and children miss very little class curriculum time. At this point we are happy to provide resources that can be used at home too.

If there is still no improvement, especially if the child is experiencing difficulties with phonics or spelling or it is effecting their self-esteem, then we are able to refer them for a speech and language assessment externally. This may result in therapy sessions being set up in school, delivered by a trained therapist. We will also arrange for a TA working in the class to receive additional training so they can support the child by delivering the therapy activities in between sessions.

If you are concerned about any aspect of your child’s speech, please contact their class teacher or myself at [email protected] or phone 01732 453944.

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