In the fall I get many referrals from teachers, and calls from concerned parents, about their son or daughter’s speech. People wonder “Is my child normal?” when Timmy or Sandy can’t make the R sound, or when their child’s classmates are sounding more clear than their child.

Most of the time, this is normal. Really!

There is a range of “normal.” Many kids learn faster than “normal,” and many kids learn slower than “normal,” and are still in the normal range. The normal range is quite large. I have a hard time even typing “normal” without quotes, because it can look so different from student to student.

However, it can be useful to look at generalities to see if your student or child might need a speech therapy referral. Here are some guidelines:

2 years old:
-50% intelligible

Kids who are two should be able to be understood about 50% of the time. There will be many sounds that are still developing, and this is normal. Sometimes you will have no idea what they say, and this is normal also. 🙂

3 years old:
– 75% intelligible
– /p,b,m,n,h,w/ are consistent
– /d,t,k,g,f,s,j/ are there, but sometimes incorrect

Kids who are 3 have many sounds developing, but should be understandable more often than not. They will be inconsistent in which words they can say, and which ones they can’t.

4 years old:
– 90% intelligible
– /b,d,t,f,k,g,y/ are now consistent

Kids who are 4 are understood most of the time. There are still errors, but they generally don’t interfere with understanding what the child is saying. Many of the sounds are “inconsistent,” meaning that the sound is still developing, and some of the time they can make it, and some of the time they can’t.

5 years old:
– 90-100% intelligible
– may not have /th,r,l,s-blends/
– /v,s,z,l,r,th,ch,j,sh,zh/ are sometimes incorrect

Kids who are 5 should have the ability to make almost all of the sounds, and most of the time they do this correctly. They are understood almost all of the time. It is normal to not have the R, Th, L, and S-blends (like sp-, st-, etc). It is also still normal for kids to have a mild lisp, with the /s/ sounding like a /th/. These last few sounds can still be developing all the way into 2nd grade.

6 years old:
– /s/ blends, /l/ blends, and /r/ start to develop

7 years old:
– /th/ sound begins to develop. /r/ and /s,l/ blends may be inconsistent

8 years old:
– /th/ and /r/ should finish developing. If students do not have the /r/ sound by the end of 2nd grade, speech therapy may be needed.

What if my kid isn’t “normal”?

If you check your child’s speech against the list above and feel that there may be a problem, PLEASE call your local speech therapist RIGHT AWAY! It is much easier to help children when they are younger, before they develop patterns which will need to be corrected later. You can talk with your doctor or call your child’s public school and ask to speak with the speech therapist on staff. If your child isn’t in school yet or is in private school, you can still get speech therapy if your child needs it. Find out how to connect with those services by calling your local public school.

Often, frustration can be an indicator if something is worrisome – most kids will be able to make important things understood, and if an adult doesn’t understand the first time, they can say it again. If your child is getting frustrated frequently, having temper tantrums or acting out when people don’t understand, or giving up on talking, that may indicate a problem which could be helped by speech therapy.

A note about a child who has a lisp: a frontal lisp (the ‘s’ sounding like a ‘th’) can be normal all the way into 2nd grade. It doesn’t impact intelligibility very much, and many children have this speech pattern. A lateral lisp (the air coming out the side of the child’s mouth for the ‘s’ sound, making it sound slushy or slobbery) is NOT a normal speech pattern, and will probably need speech therapy if it doesn’t clear up pretty quickly.