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Children begin learning to communicate from the moment they are born.  For most children this ability
develops naturally, but for some children this is not the case.  As with other areas of development, communication development can be delayed or disordered.  In all cases where a child's speech, language, voice or fluency are not developing in the usual way, consultation with a Speech Pathologist is recommended.  Early intervention is the key to addressing communication difficulties, and is recommended in order to avoid later related difficulties, such as possible literacy problems.
Children may have difficulties in one or more of the following communication areas:
  • Speech (articulation of sounds)
  • Receptive Language
  • Expressive Language
  • Literacy
  • Stuttering
  • Childhood Apraxia of Speech
  • Voice

Articulation is the way in which we produce speech sounds. Children can experience a range of difficulties that will affect the way they produce their speech sounds.


Children will often have speech sound production errors at some point in their development.  It is recognised that different sounds are expected to develop at different ages. A speech delay exists when a child continues to make these mistakes past the age expected.


Speech sound delays involve articulation (making the sound with the lips, tongue and mouth) and phonological processes (sound patterns). A phonological delay will cause patterns of speech difficulties.


An articulation delay may include:

  • unclear speech

  • a distorted speech sound such as a slushy quality

  • substituting one sound for another


A phonological delay may include:

  • unclear speech

  • leaving off sounds at the beginning, middle or end of words

  • difficulty with sounds in words, or in a conversation, even though the sound is able to be produced on its own

  • substituting one sound for another in words.


Receptive Language

Receptive language is defined as the understanding of spoken or written language. Some possible symptoms that may indicate that the child is experiencing difficulties with their receptive language skills include:


  • communication frustration

  • difficulties following instructions

  • difficulties answering and responding appropriately to questions

  • difficulties listening and responding in the home and/or the learning environment

  • behaviour or attention difficulties


Expressive Language

Expressive language refers to talking or verbal communication. This is the child's ability to form sentences using correct grammar and vocabulary. Expressive language difficulties can affect the speaker's ability to convey their message using spoken or written language.


Children can experience expressive language difficulties that may present as:


  • difficulty in combining words to form a meaningful sentence

  • difficulty in retrieving the right word in conversation

  • difficulties in using the correct grammar

  • using jargon (made up words) in their sentences

  • difficulty holding a conversation or retelling a story

  • difficulty writing a story or report



Reading, spelling and writing are complex skills.  While some children develop these skills with little or no effort, other children need these skills explicitly taught.   One of the strongest predictors of how well a child will progress with their literacy is their spoken language at the time when they start to read,  Children who have communication disorders that are not resolved by the time they start to read, write and spell at school are at greater risk of having difficulties with literacy.

There are a number of speech and language skills that are involved in learning to read and spell. Children who have speech difficulties or difficulties in hearing the differences between sounds may have difficulty in both reading and spelling words. Children who find it hard to learn new words (vocabulary) or to link words (semantics) may have difficulty with reading comprehension.


Speech Pathology Australia strongly endorses the role of Speech Pathologists in prevention, identification and management of literacy difficulties in children because of their specialist knowledge of oral language and the relationship between language and literacy in development.  

Some symptoms of a reading difficulty may include:


  • avoidance or reluctance to read

  • difficulty in breaking up the sounds in words

  • reading words or skipping over words when they read

  • mispronouncing words or letters

  • not understanding what they have read

  • not remembering what they have read

  • guessing a word based on its first letter or visual pattern of the word



Stuttering is a disorder in which the fluency of speech is affected.  The type and frequency of the stutter can vary significantly between children.


Common features of stuttering include:


  • repetition of a sound

  • repetition of a syllable

  • repetition of a word

  • repetition of a phrase or sentence


Less common features of stuttering may include:


  • prolongations which involve the lengthening or extension of a sound in a word

  • blocking where the child is unable to produce a sound at all and there is an interruption of the airflow


Some children may also experience additional features that accompany their stutter such as tension in their facial features or tics.


Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder. Children with CAS experience difficulty saying sounds, syllables and words. CAS involves difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary for speech.


The following features may apply to young children with CAS:


  • development of first sounds and words is late

  • sounds in speech may be missing or there may be a restricted repertoire of sounds

  • difficulty with combining sounds or long pauses between single sounds

  • early eating problems 

The following features may apply to children with CAS:


  • inconsistent sound errors

  • difficulty imitating speech

  • appearance of groping when trying to make sounds or coordinate tongue, lips and jaw for purposeful movement

  • hard to understand especially for the unfamiliar listener



Children can have many types of voice disorders. Children with voice disorders may have harsh or hoarse voices which are too loud or too nasal. A voice disorder may make it difficult for a child to communicate effectively. Some of the causes of a voice disorder are:


  • talking or shouting loudly or excessively

  • common childhood infections

  • emotional or psychological factors


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