Articulation Disorder: Definition & Causes

Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian has an MBA and is a real estate investor, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

Developmental hearing loss in young children can result in speaking difficulties. In this lesson we will briefly review the definition and causes of the speech problem known as articulation disorder.

Speech Development

Mary is concerned about her toddler's speech development. Little Jake, age four, still has an awkward way of pronouncing many words that many of his preschool friends have already mastered. She's thinking about consulting a speech language pathologist and has sought out some reading material about this issue. Mary thinks Jake might have an articulation disorder. Although a speech therapist should confirm this condition, let's take a look at the definition of this problem and identify some of the potential causes.


An articulation disorder is a disorder that makes it difficult for a person to create the sounds used to speak a language. This disorder can make it difficult for others to understand what that person is trying to say. Articulation disorder is not the same thing as having an accent. Children and adults with an articulation disorder are unable to correctly make the sounds to properly pronounce sounds in their native language. They might replace 'r' sounds in words with a 'w' sound, such as pronouncing the word 'rope' as 'wope'. They might also be unable to consistently pronounce the beginning, middle, or end of word.

A speech language pathologist is a professional who specializes in diagnosing the condition and source of the problem. The pathologist can tell Mary if Jake's speech development falls within an appropriate range for his age or if treatment should be considered. After diagnosing the problem, speech pathologists are able to conduct many of the treatments.

The pathologist reassures Mary that many children have difficulty speaking and make errors quite frequently in early childhood. It's only after age eight where a child would be expected to be able to pronounce all the sounds in English correctly. It's highly likely that Jake's development is normal since he isn't at risk for one of the common underlying causes.


Although it's likely that Jake doesn't have an articulation disorder, Mary wonders what sort of issues can cause it. Luckily Jake hasn't had any of the common problems that are linked to articulation disorders. The underlying problem could be a physical issue, such as a cleft palate or anatomical deformity. It could be the result of a hearing problem. Autism and genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, or a neurological condition, such as cerebral palsy, are possible causes as well.

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