How Phonological Processes Relate to Stuttering, and More

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Small children learn to speak by imitating those around them. Sounds that are too complicated for their developing oral-motor skills often cause them to rely on common phonological processes. These processes are like shortcuts. They're ways of mimicking the pronunciation of a sound the child can't produce correctly yet. However, if a child comes to rely on them, that child could develop a variety of speech impairments. And research has shown a possible relationship between speech impairments and stuttering.

All children use these shortcuts at first. However, if your child doesn't eventually learn to form sounds correctly, or develops a stutter, you should consider seeking the assistance of a speech therapist.

What Causes Stuttering?

Stuttering is a speech disorder that disrupts the flow of sentences. Someone with a stutter may repeat a sound or prolong one. They may also exhibit an arbitrary strike in the sounds and syllables of a sentence. It's hard to overcome a stutter, and the stress of speaking correctly may also cause unusual body movements or facial expressions.

Stuttering, especially in children, can happen for many reasons. However, there are several factors which play a contributing role in the development of stuttering. These areas include a child's individual development, genetics, family dynamics, and even neurophysiological issues.

Stuttering is very common. What's more, the symptoms of stuttering are treatable with speech therapy or non-speech oral-motor therapy. Treatment will allow your child to communicate more naturally and without a stutter eventually.

What Are Phonological Processes?

The term “phonological processes” refers to the shortcuts and patterns used by people who are first learning a language. But relying on them can lead to the development of impaired speech.

Don't confuse phonological processes with phonological processing, however, although both may play a role in speech difficulties. Phonological processes are shortcuts people use to approximate difficult speech sounds. Phonological processing refers to the way a person hears and understands specific language sounds. If your child is experiencing speech difficulties, you should consider both the way they're producing sounds and the way they might be understanding them.


The Common Phonological Processes of People Who Stutter

If your child stutters, it’s possible that they developed it through continued and uncorrected speech patterns promoted by their reliance on phonological processes. Here are the most common phonological processes of people who stutter.

Initial consonant deletion

Final consonant deletion

Velar fronting

Consonant assimilation


Weak syllable deletion

English speakers emphasize some syllables and de-emphasize others. For example, in the word umbrella (um BRE lla) we emphasize 'bre'. 'Bre' is the strong syllable. The others are weak. Some people may skip one or more of the weak syllables in a word. This generally clears up by age four. If it doesn't, speech therapy can help.

Treatment for Reliance on Phonological Processes

Many treatment methods for inappropriate phonological processes have surfaced over the years. Each focuses on the patient's overall articulation of speech sounds. A speech therapist may choose to approach the problem from a motor skills perspective. He or she may also choose from a variety of techniques that address the production of specific sounds. Below are some terms that you may encounter in your research.

Phases of treatment

There are three distinct phases of treatment: establishment, generalization, and maintenance.




Therapeutic techniques

A speech therapist may use some different techniques to help your child to overcome his or her speech difficulties.

Contextual utilization

Contrast therapy

Non-speech oral-motor therapy

Articulation therapy

Phonological therapy

Your Responsibility as a Parent

If your child is producing sounds incorrectly or relying on phonological processes, it may be time to consult a speech therapist. Listen carefully to irregularities and try to find a pattern. This will help the speech therapist to determine the exact problem and formulate a plan for treatment. Stuttering, reliance on phonological processes, and other speech problems are common and treatable.

This article is not intended as medical advice. If you are concerned about your child's speech development, contact your pediatrician or speech therapist.

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