How to Determine What Sounds Your Child Needs Help With

speech sounds for site

How to Determine What Sounds Your Child Needs Help With

By Hallie Bulkin


One of my responsibilities as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) is to know when a child’s speech development is developmentally on track or delayed. For example, when a two year old makes a speech error, we must determine if that error is developmentally appropriate or not. It is developmentally appropriate when the error is consistent with other children of the same age. It is delayed or not developmentally appropriate when the errors that the child makes is not being made by his/her same age peers. When we determine a child’s speech sound production is delayed, the identified error sounds can be addressed through speech therapy.

How to Determine The State of Your Child’s Speech Production

There are two steps in determining if a child’s speech is age appropriate or delayed.

First, you may have your child screened using an articulation screener that will compare your child’s age and speech sound production with “sound aquisition norms” or “speech sound norms”. These norms help the SLP to determine if your child’s productions are developmentally appropriate errors or if the errors are delayed. It is pretty common these days that preschool programs offer this as part of a developmental screening service on a yearly basis to catch developmental delays early.

Second, if the SLP determines that further evaluation is necessary, a standardized tool is used to determine percentiles and age equivalents. This basically means it allows us to measure a child’s progress in relation to their same aged peers. In working with my clients I have used one standardized tool consistently, the Goldman Fristoe Test of Articulation-2 (GFTA-2). This is a reliable test that gives us a great idea of the child’s ability to produce age-appropriate sounds.

Please note that if you are a “googler” you will find that various studies have shown that the the actual range of “normal” speech sound development is just that, a range! That said, we can use this range to determine if children have developed age appropriate sounds between the ages of 2-3 years, 4-5 years, and 6-7 years. All speech sounds should be developed by 7 years of age (and definitely by your child’s 8th birthday).

Why Am I Sharing This With You?

One of the most common comments from parents of kids I work with is that their 3-year-old is not making the /l/ or /r/ sound. There is nothing wrong with parents pointing this out, because these are the sounds that they can readily identify their child is not making correctly. And I commend them for that! However, when a child is 3-years-old, the fact that they have not developed these sounds is considered to be within normal limits.

“But My Child’s Preschool Classmates Make That Sound”

It is important to know that sounds like /l/ and /r/ are not typically mastered by most children until age 5 or 6. That said, there are children who develop all of their speech sounds by their 3rd or 4th birthday. But if you were to come to me and tell me that your three year old has all of their sounds, except for /l/, /r/, and “th”, I would tell you that I am not worried 😉 This brings us to my next point…

Age Appropriate Vs. Importance

For some parents, even though their child is not yet expected to make the /l/ or the /r/ sound (or other later developmental sounds), it is an important sound to the parent(s) and/or child. In this situation, it is okay to treat the sound in therapy, if the child has other sounds to work on, too. For example, if the child’s name is “Rachel” and the little girl can’t make the /r/ or the /l/, the importance of producing the sounds in her name overrides the fact that it is not developmentally appropriate to work on. This of course is a decision to be made by the parents with their child’s SLP.

Eligibility For Services

While speech sound norms ROCK and will help to guide the SLP on where to start with your child, we need to avoid placing emphasis on them as a tool for determining eligibility. In order to be eligible for services a child should undergo a comprehensive evaluation, which includes about 7 general components (that’s a topic for another day) and an Articulation Assessment is just one part of one of those components.

Once a child has been deemed eligible for Speech Pathology services, the norms are used to determine where to begin in therapy. That said, if a child has little to no language, that will be the focus first and foremost. Once they have enough language to work on speech you will begin working on developmentally appropriate sounds and/or those sounds that are mutually agreed upon to be of great importance to the child and the family.

Are They Stimulable?

Just to confuse the matter even more, there is one more component to consider; Is your child stimulable? This basically means, is your child able to imitate the sound after the SLP produces it and asks your child to repeat it OR can your child easily be taught the sound.

Speech sound norms tell the SLP that your child should work on certain sounds in the order that they are typically acquired in development. However, if your child is not stimulable for an earlier developing sound (e.g., /k/), but they are stimulable for a later developing sound (e.g., /v/, the later developing sound (e.g., /v/) will be addressed first.


Did you ever realize that so much went into determining if your child needs help with their speech production?? Just wait, we haven’t tackled the whole assessment process yet. I chose to start with this first as speech is one of the most obvious areas and one of the most commonly asked questions I get from parents.

So if I haven’t confused you completely I would like to share speech sound norms with you to use as a guide when you look at and listen to your child and try to determine if their sounds are developmentally appropriate. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and just remember that we are thankful for the speech sound norms that DO exist! They are a useful tool for parents and SLP’s as they give us a tool to measure the child’s initial speech sound development and later progress, too.

Grab your free copy of Speech Sound Norms here.

With Love,

Hallie Bulkin

11 thoughts on “How to Determine What Sounds Your Child Needs Help With

  1. I’m definitely going to have to revisit all of this when my son starts getting to the speaking age. Such great information for parents!

  2. I love that your passion for kids shows though your writing. You are going to be a blessing to many children and their parents Hallie!

  3. Enjoy him while you can…I don’t have kids yet but oh my gosh everyone says how they grow up so fast. Working with kids and watching them grow is such a blessing! LOVE babies and toddlers…I will be here when you are ready!

  4. Knowing what’s developmentally appropriate sure does take some of the stress of moms who think their child is “behind” … thanks for this!

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