Ask A Speechie – My six year old often says “f” instead of “th”. Is this normal?

August 20, 2018
Ask A Speechie – My six year old often says “f” instead of “th”. Is this normal?

This Ask A Speechie question is answered by Speech Pathologist Holly White.

Question: My six year old is sticking her tongue out when she says ‘s’. I’ve also noticed that she often says “f” instead of “th” (e.g. “fumb” for thumb). Is this normal? What should I do?

When Speech Pathologists look at a child’s communication, they look at a number of different areas. Trouble saying particular sounds falls into the area of “speech”. When investigating a child’s speech, Speech Pathologists look at two things; articulation and phonology. Articulation is the ability to accurately make the motor movements (movements with their mouth) required to produce particular sounds in speech, while phonological abilities relate to the brains ability to correctly identify a specific sound. A speech sound assessment helps diagnose and differentiate between disorders of articulation (difficulty producing particular sounds in speech) and phonological disorder or delay (consistently substituting a particular sound with another due to incorrect representation of the sound).

If you are concerned that your child’s speech sound development, the first step is to make a phone call to a Speech Pathologist. The Speech Pathologist is likely to ask you questions about you child’s general development and communication. In most cases, a formal assessment will be recommended, in order to get a broader communication profile and determine the best intervention approach.

Interestingly, speech sound delays can also have an impact on a child’s literacy development, as a child’s awareness of sound patterns in speech can impact a child’s ability to separate or blend sounds together when reading or spelling. Therefore, a Speech Pathologist may also assess your child’s literacy skills, specifically their knowledge of sounds in words and their ability to manipulate these.

In response to your question, we expect that a child who is 6 years old would be able produce the ‘s’ sound clearly, as this sound is typically acquired by 4.5 years. However, as the ‘th’ is a later developing sound (it does not typically developing until 7.5 years), your child’s error is still appropriate at this age.

If you would like more information about speech sound development and evidence-based treatment approaches for children of different ages, please contact the team at reception and ask to speak to a Speech Pathologist.