Doug was three years old and having a difficult time saying many of his speech sounds correctly. Among those sounds were the s and z sounds. Doug would say things like ham for Sam, Hing for sing, and dinosaurs for dinosaurs.
After consultation with his doctor and a speech therapist, Doug and his mother started some daily exercises--games to Doug--that involved blowing bubbles or blowing lightweight items from one place to another. Because the s and z sounds are carried on a flow of air directly out of the front of the mouth, these exercises helped Doug learn to correctly produce these sounds.
Oral motor exercises at an early age can make a difference in every childs articulation skills. Oral motor exercises help develop the strength and flexibility of the oral musculature for better articulation and establish those patterns in the developing brain.
The tongue, with its eight different kinds of muscles, needs to be flexible in order to produce correct speech sounds. The lips need to move in a variety of ways, and the cheeks and jaw muscles need strength and practice in order to sustain all sounds.
At a time when all of a childs muscles are developing at a rapid pace, they naturally get exercise as the child runs and plays during physical activities. Just as the legs and arms need to be utilized, so do the muscles of the mouth, cheeks, jaw, and tongue.
Developmental Speech Sounds
Some speech sounds are developmental in nature and may not be produced correctly until various ages. There are ages at which particular consonant sounds are usually pronounced correctly.
Keep in mind that these are the upper-age levels for normal development that do not take into consideration multiple issues that might impact how a childs language develops.
- All vowel sounds - a, e, i, o, u - are usually produced correctly by the age of two.
- A child should be able to produce p, b, m, n, h, w, and d by the age of three.
- By four to four and one-half, the sounds t, f, j, g, ks are typically established.
- At five to five and one-half, the f and s are normal.
- The l is found by age six to six and one-half.
- The following sounds - z, sh, ch, r, th, ng - are in place by seven and one-half.
Developmental speech errors, or when children do not develop sounds appropriately or have trouble pronouncing certain sounds correctly, are common and do not normally need a speech therapy assessment. However, parents should talk to their doctor and determine if a speech therapy assessment is necessary in certain cases.
For instance, speech therapy assessment may be necessary if the child cannot be understood; if the childs speech is unintelligible with multiple errors; if the child plays silently; if the child does not pronounce vowels; if the child has difficulty sucking, swallowing, or chewing (the same muscles used for eating are used for speech); and/or if the child continues to have difficulty saying any one of the speech sounds correctly when he/she reaches the age of six.
Assisting the Child in Speech Development
Caregivers and parents can make a difference in any childs life by practicing oral motor exercises that help in facilitating the childs speech development. These exercises assist in developing the muscles of the tongue, lips, cheeks, and jaw in order to make the musculature stronger and more flexible for adequate speech production.
Be sure to provide an adult model of what you want the child to do, and then do it with them. These can be done in a turn-taking model or as a duet. Go first for accuracy with each of the exercises, and then add speed. Fast and slow, loud and soft, high and low, or standing and sitting add variety and fun to the exercises.
Practicing each of the exercises on a daily basis would be great, but that is not always possible. The best advice is to do what you can on a regular basis. Children love and need routine in their lives.
Clicking Click the tongue up and down in rapid succession. Clicking assists with elevation of the tongue for the consonants r and l. Keep in mind that many children cannot click until about the age of three.
Encourage children to click loudly, softly, quickly, slowly, three times, five times, etc. Clicking to childrens songs and inserting the words every now and then is a fun way of learning and developing rhythm. Also encourage children to clap or march to the song. These activities promote coordination as the young brain has to focus on specific areas of development.
Wiggles Wiggle the tongue--outside of the mouth--from one side to another in rapid succession. Encourage children to wiggle fast and slow. Play touch your ear with your tongue!
Lateral wiggling assists with muscle strength and flexibility for rapid production and changing between consonants and vowels in words and sentences. Wiggle while you walk. Wiggle while you wash. Wiggle while you comb your hair. Wiggle to the Wiggles!
Blowing Practice blowing using cotton/craft balls: lay a paper cup at one end of the table and blow the cotton balls or craft balls into the cup. Blow paper, leaves, large whistles, party blowers, straws--each of these activities assist with the production of sounds that are carried on an air flow such as the s, z, sh, ch, f, and v, sounds. Be sure that when a child is blowing a whistle or pipe he or she is supervised and seated in a chair for safety.
Tongue Travels Have the childs tongue go on a trip with various exercises. Play touch your chin with your tongue, and touch your nose with your tongue. Make the upper teeth train tracks and the tongue the train.
Have the child say eeee and travel on the tracks with the sides of the tongue touching the upper teeth changing to a rrrr sound. Have the child trace the train with his/her index fingers up the sides of his/her cheeks.
This exercise will assist with the r sounds, and integrating the activity with toothbrushing is a natural. Brush the teeth and feel where the brush went with the tongue. Brushing the tongue is a good thing, too.
Vowel Exchanges Pick two long vowels at a time (A-E-I-O-U), and say them in rapid succession. The adult should over exaggerate the oral movements and making funny faces assists in doing so. Examples are A-O or E-I, etc.
Using a mirror to reflect both the child and adult at the same time is an effective tool to use for this activity. Also, using magnetic letters or foam letters provides a visual for the child to connect sounds with letter recognition.
Kathie Harrington, M.A.,CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist, Las Vegas, NV
American Speech Language Hearing Association, 10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852; 800-638-8255; www.asha.org
Cleft Links, www.widesmiles.org/cleftlinks
The Oral Motor Institute, www.oralmotorinstitute.org