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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Therapist to Therapist: Why Am I Hearing More Older Student With Articulation Errors?

     I’ve recently received several advertisements for a new Articulation Test put out by LinguiSystems referred to as the LAT (Linguisystem Articulation Test).  I haven’t reviewed the test but one of their advertising selling points is updated norms, “why use 10 year old norms.”  Initially I had to chuckle at that one because it’s only and articulation test and how much could norms for an articulation test actually change over 10 years or even 50 years.  Despite theories of some researchers, I don’t think child development has changed that much but experiences and exposure has.  
     Then I started thinking about recent observations I’ve made at the middle school level.  Going into the classrooms more often, I’m hearing more and more older children with significant articulation issues.  The errors noted are usually distortions (not substitutions) of later developing sounds /s/, /l/, /r/, /w/, open vowel sounds and even some difficulty coordinating oral motor movements (making their speech look and sound awkward).  
     The older students demonstrating these articulation errors are not children with a history of special needs or developmental disability.  These are not students who might be considered uncoordinated.  Most of these kids are average to above average students, coordinated, relatively mature and social.
     Now my observations were very unscientific but I starting asking myself why are there more older kids with articulation errors.  Of course I’ve developed some theories on this
  1. I feel the biggest reason for increased articulation difficulties in older children is because there is a lack of phonics instruction and drill during the early years.  Most of the children I observed were exposed to a whole language approach to reading without consistent phonics supplement across all classrooms.  Without a strong phonics background the ability to identify and discriminate between similar sounds may be lacking.  Phonics helps to develop auditory awareness which is key to many language skills.
  2. Schools often do not allow or encourage the necessary intensive therapy needed to remediate articulation issues.  Some school systems are insisting that all therapy (articulation and language) take place in a classroom setting.  That works for some kids, not all.  Sometimes iii a budget issue disguised as a “new articulation therapy approach.”  These schools might have very large group articulation therapy.  The “new therapy approaches” are usually not designed by Speech Language Pathologists either.  Some schools have made mandates not to work on articulation in the older grades at all.  It’s my opinion that  articulation therapy is very individual and private matter, especially with older students.
  3. These kids are not already on the special education rolls so most of the time we are not going to pick them up for an articulation errors unless they are clearly dyspraxic or have parents who are insistent.  For some schools it is the whole thing about articulation being a medical issue rather than an educational issue.  
  4. As therapists we often hesitate to pick up kid with later developing sound errors either through an IEP or 504.  Later developing sounds are more difficult to remediate.  By the time students are developmentally ready to work on and remediate later developing sounds they don’t want to, parents don’t push it, schools don’t push it and it takes a lot of practice.  However, the process is always made easier if the kids have a good background in auditory perception and discrimination.  Again this is what develops when students are exposed to a strong phonics approach.
  5. School schedules at the middle and high school level often cannot accommodate individual or pull out therapy for either articulation or language.  To rule out pull out therapies for all kids based on the idea of total inclusion, takes the “individual” out of the individual educational plan.  Some therapy issues are just so private or need to be addressed so intensively that it just can’t happen in a classroom setting.  School schedules must offer flexibility for students in need (addressing language, articulation issues or other learning needs).  One therapy model that is working well for some therapists is intensive sessions for a shorter duration.  For some older kids it isn’t appropriate to address articulation at school and an outside therapist would be a better choice.
     Should we be addressing articulation with older students in school?  Should schools be advocating for this?  I guess that depends on the what you want for students.  Do we just want kids just to be able to get by and pass state mandated testing or do we also want kids to grow up to be articulate adults who can express themselves?  Do we want kids to be able to present themselves as confident well spoken adults?  If we do, articulation therapy is very important.  
     Most older students with articulation distortions have little or no awareness of how they pronounce their sounds.  Even if their speech is accepted by peers, teachers and parents for now, someday they will have to go on a job interview, interact with clients, interact with customers and make important phone calls.
     I am very interested in comparing the norms from the old moldy Goldman Fristoe.  Which in all honesty I would be more than happy to replace since the pictures are so dated, the stories are babyish and I never found it easy to track when giving it.  I would love to see where students stand in terms of articulation development (even though it is only normed from ages 3-8).  I curious to see if there are any changes in articulation development in younger children.
     Do Speech Language Pathologists really even need to use an articulation test?  Yes, of course if we want to prove to administrators that articulation needs to be address.  However, most experienced speech language pathologists know articulation development guidelines and can differentiate between a developmental delay, out of range distortions and apraxia just by looking, listening and observing.  
    I think it is really sad that so many “typical” older kids are affected by articulation difficulties.  What have we done wrong?  Most people in this country think our primary job is working on articulation errors in children.  Historically we’re known for fixing “speech” as opposed to working on “language.”  This is an issue which needs further investigation. 

Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

Teresa Buckley Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc said...

Yesterday I ran into my children's old preschool teacher. She mentioned to me that she is hearing more and more kids with articulation errors. More truly dyspraxic kids too. I'm not quite sure what to think of that information but it would still be interesting to study if a strong phonics program helps the typical error kids to naturally correct their articulation.