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Articulation disorders (also called phonetic disorders, or simply "arctic disorders" for short) are based on difficulty learning to physically produce the intended phonemes, to articulate correctly speech. There are usually fewer errors than with a phonemic disorder, and distortions are more likely (though any omissions, additions, and substitutions may also be present).
Articulation disorders may be attributed to a variety of causes. A child with hearing loss may not be able to hear certain phonemes pronounced at certain frequencies, or hear the error in their own production of sounds. Oral-motor problems may also be at fault, such as apraxia (a problem with coordination of speech muscles) or dysarthria (abnormal facial muscle tone, often due to neurological problems such as cerebral palsy). Abnormalities in the structure of the mouth and other speech muscles can cause problems with articulation; cleft palate, tongue thrust, and dental-orthodontia abnormalities are some common examples. Finally, it is difficult for children to hear and produce all of the different phonemes of a given language. Development is slow, and may take up to seven years. Sometimes, as children grow, articulation problems fade and disappear without treatment. Often, however, therapy is necessary.
An articulation disorder may be diagnosed when a child has difficulty producing phonemes, or speech sounds, correctly. When classifying a sound, speech pathologists refer to the manner of articulation, the place of articulation, and voicing. A speech sound disorder may include one or more errors of place, manner, or voicing of the phoneme.
Different types of articulation disorders include:
- certain sounds are deleted, often at the ends of words; entire syllables or classes of sounds may be deleted; e.g., fi' for fish
- one sound is substituted for another, often with similar places or manners or articulation; e.g., [sic]
- sounds are changed slightly by what may seem like the addition of noise, or a change in voicing; e.g., filsh for fish
- an extra sound is added to one already produced correctly; often occurs at the ends of words; may include changes in voicing; e.g., fisha for fish (Boone 256-58)
The phonemes that present the greatest challenge for children include /l/ as in pull, /r/ as in mirror, /ʃ/ ("sh") as in shut, /tʃ/ ("ch") as in church, /dʒ/ ("j") as in fudge, /z/ as in zoo, /ʒ/ ("zh") as in measure, /θ/ ("th") as in math and /ð/ ("th") as in this (Boone 112).
Articulation disorders should not be confused with motor speech disorders, such as Dysarthria (in which there is actual paralysis of the speech musculature) or Childhood Apraxia of Speech (in which motor planning is severely impaired).
It is necessary to note the difference between articulation disorders and dialectical variations. There are several dialects of English spoken in the United States, influenced by socioeconomic status, geographic isolation, and other languages either brought to the U.S. by settlers or indigenous languages of the Native Americans. These social dialects are rule-governed and are not to be considered lesser than, but simply different from standard English. Examples of dialectical features that may be mistaken for articulation disorders include the 'r-lessness' of New York City speech in words like floor, here, and paper as well as the reduction of consonant clusters in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). If a word ends with two or more consonants such as in cold, and is followed by another word that begins with a consonant such as cuts, cold is shortened to col, producing col cuts. These features alone should not be treated as articulation disorders to be 'cured' by speech therapy. However, it is possible for a child with a dialectal variation to also have a communication disorder. It is important for a speech pathologist to be able to tell the difference (Oyer 170).
They are often treated with speech therapy teaching the child how to physically produce the sound and having them practice its production until it (hopefully) becomes natural.
Speech therapists may target semantic differences related to phonemic differences (e.g., teaching a child the difference between toe and toad, underlining the importance of the final consonant), physical-motor differences (e.g., using a mirror to show a child the correct tongue placement for a particular sound), or behavior-modification techniques (e.g., repetitive production through prompts and fun learning games). Support and reinforcement of therapy practices, both in the classroom and at home, are crucial to the success of articulation disorder treatment (Boone 122-24, 259-62, 274-76). Clinically proven products aimed at correcting articulation disorders include Speech Buddies, which uses tactile feedback to teach correct tongue placement.