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Functional Speech Sound Disorder Treatment: Climb That Ladder!

What is a Functional Speech Sound Disorder?

A speech sound disorder is an umbrella term for communication deficits that have to do with speech production, perception of speech, motor production of speech, and phonological representation of speech sounds.

Functional speech sound disorders include Articulation Disorders and Phonological Disorders. Please click each link for more information from a previous post.


What does treatment for Speech Sound Disorders look like?

Treatment for speech sound disorders is often overlapped in the same way that a diagnosis of Phonological Disorder and Articulation Disorder can overlap. These two concepts are intertwined differently for every individual, which means therapy will look different for each client. Below are some broad guidelines of how treatment may be conducted.

Articulation Treatment

When children have speech sound errors due to articulation difficulties, they cannot physically produce the sound.

The speech language pathologist will select a target sound based on their evaluation, the child's stimulability (how "close" they are to making the sound correctly), what sound may be most impactful if corrected, and age appropriate development patterns.

Once a goal is selected, the clinician will use verbal cues, hands on adjustments, and visual supports to help the child establish the correct production.

Phonological Treatment

Phonological disorders are characterized by errors in production to a group of sounds. Some errors are developmental because all speakers need to simplify speech when they are learning to talk. However, if the error patterns occur past a typical developmental age or are not considered "developmental" (i.e. the patterns are atypical), therapy is needed to target not just one sound but an entire group.

Treatment goals are selected with the intent to help the child internalize phonological rules and then generalize the rules to other sounds within the pattern.


After the sound is produced correctly in isolation, the clinician will help the child generalize the skill. Speech Language Pathologists often refer to this as the "speech ladder" be

cause of its progressive nature.

The goal of articulation and phonological therapy is accurate production of the target sound at the:

1. Sound Level

2. Word Level

3. Phrase Level

4. Reading Level

5. Conversation Level

The speech language pathologist will use a variety of play, drill, and movement activities to get as many productions as possible into each session.

'What you can do to help:

Your therapist will provide you with homework to practice between speech sessions.


Cognitive Science Research has shown that most people learn and retain information best when it is presented in massed practice vs distributed practice. This means that the more often a skill is practiced, the more quickly someone is to develop and maintain the skill.

Speech homework can often feel daunting. Asking a child to sit down and practice saying specific words and sounds over and over again can feel impossible to do more than once a week. If you have difficulty fitting in practice or you notice your child is becoming frustrated by the activities, let your speech language pathologist know! There are SO MANY different ways to work speech sound practice into everyday activities to help it feel easier.

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