Speech sound disorders are speech disorders in which some speech sounds (called phonemes) in a child’s (or, sometimes, an adult’s) native language are either not produced, not produced correctly, or are not used correctly.
Articulation disorders (also called phonetic disorders, or simply “artic disorders” for short) are based on difficulty learning to physically produce the intended phonemes. Articulation disorders have to do with the main articulators which are the lips, teeth, alveolar ridge, hard palate, velum, glottis, and the tongue. If the disorder has anything to do with any of these articulators, then it is an articulation disorder. There are usually fewer errors than with a phonemic disorder, and distortions are more likely (though any omissions, additions, and substitutions may also be present). They are often treated by teaching the child how to physically produce the sound and having them practice its production until it (hopefully) becomes natural. Articulation disorders should not be confused with motor speech disorders, such as dysarthria (in which there is actual paralysis of the speech musculature) or developmental verbal dyspraxia (in which motor planning is severely impaired).
In a phonemic disorder (also called a phonological disorders) the child is having trouble learning the sound system of the language, failing to recognize which sound-contrasts also contrast meaning. For example, the sounds /k/ and /t/ may not be recognized as having different meanings, so “call” and “tall” might be treated as homophones, both being pronounced as “tall.” This is called phoneme collapse, and in some cases many sounds may all be represented by one — e.g., /d/ might replace /t/, /k/, and /g/. As a result, the number of error sounds is often (though not always) greater than with articulation disorders and substitutions are usually the most common error. Phonemic disorders are often treated using minimal pairs (two words that differ by only one sound) to draw the child’s attention to the difference and its effect on communication.
Some children with phonemic disorders may seem to be able to hear phoneme distinctions in the speech of others but not their own. This is called the fis phenomenon based on scenario in which a speech pathologist will say, “Did you say ‘fis,’ don’t you mean ‘fish’?” To which the child responds, “No, I didn’t say ‘fis,’ I said ‘fis’.” In some cases, the sounds produced by the child are actually acoustically different, but not significantly enough for others to distinguish – ironically, because those sounds are not phonemically unique to speakers of the language.
Though phonemic disorders are often considered language disorders in that it is the language system that is affected, they are also speech sound disorders in that the errors relate to use of phonemes. This makes them different from Specific Language Impairment (SLI), which is primarily a disorder of the syntax (grammar) and usage of language rather than the sound system. However, the two can coexist, affecting the same person.
Other disorders can deal with a variety of different ways to pronounce consonants. Some examples are glides and liquids. Glides occur when the articulatory posture changes gradually from consonant to vowel. Liquids can include /l/ and /.1/ .