questionI have a 4 1/2 year old girl who has trouble with her ‘s’ blends. She can pronounce the ‘s’ sound, but when she blends it with other letters it comes out as “st.” School is “stool”, sky is “sty”, smile is “stile.” She was evaluated at preschool and the only comment made was her r’s sounding like w’s. I know r’s are a later occurring sound, but I can’t find any information on s blends. Should she be evaluated?

answerThank you for your question. Let me start by saying that it is very common for young children to have speech sound errors. According to the American Speech- Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and other researchers, children should be able to pronounce all sounds in English correctly by age 8. However, very few children learn to talk without having some speech sound errors early in their development.

The question is when does it become a “delay” or “disorder”? It is important to know that speech sound production follows a normal developmental sequence with age ranges for when children should be able to correctly produce sounds in the English language. Speech sound disorders can include problems with pronouncing individual sounds (articulation) or problems producing certain sound patterns (phonological processes). In an articulation disorder, words may be pronounced incorrectly by substituting sounds, leaving off sounds, or adding sounds (for example,  substituting  “t” for “k” sound as in “tat”  for “cat”). 

A phonological process disorder involves mistakes with patterns of sounds, for example, substituting sounds made in the back of the mouth for sounds made in the front of the mouth  (example, “tup” for “cup” and “das” for “gas”), or reducing “clusters” of sounds (for example, “poon” for “spoon”). It is also important to know that a family’s dialect or accent may also affect pronunciation, and differences due to accents or dialects are not normally considered “disorders”.

From your brief description, it sounds as if the speech errors that your child displays may be in the normal developmental range. However, whenever there is a concern, it’s a good idea to get as many professional opinions as possible. I would recommend that you get more information from the person who evaluated your child at the preschool. Was it just a quick “screening” or a full evaluation? Was the assessment performed by a teacher or a certified speech-language pathologist?  Ask for a written copy of the screening or evaluation results and have further discussion with the evaluator.

There are many factors to consider when determining whether a child’s speech warrants professional intervention. My recommendation is to also consult with your child’s pediatrician and share your concerns and the results of the preschool’s evaluation.  Depending on the qualifications of the person who previously evaluated your child, you might also want to consult with a licensed, certified speech-language pathologist in your area—usually a free service provided by most public schools. For additional information about speech development, visit: or