Yesterday I had to attend a meeting that ran long and resulted in my missing a speech group. Later in the day, one of my students pressed his face between the hand railing balusters lining the ramp leading to my room and plaintively asked why I hadn’t picked him up for speech. He added, “I want to work on my ‘d’”. Of course, I knew he meant his “g” sound but his tongue always reaches forward when he attempts to say it and so it sounds like a “d”.
This speech process is called, “fronting” and when a child has this speech pattern, he’ll say things like, “dough” for “go” and “tar” for “car”. Many young children pronounce words in this way but they usually out-grow this pattern by the time they reach 3 1/2 years of age. This particular student had many other errors when he started speech in kindergarten last year. In fact, people could not understand 95% of what he said, which was very frustrating for him as well as his listeners. When people asked him to repeat he’d usually answer, “ne my” (meaning, “never mind”) and he’d turn away, discouraged. Is it any wonder he is motivated to work on speech? This young child who is full of energy and quite impulsive, is able to sit and focus when it comes to speech. Sometimes he asks for a tongue blade to hold the front of his tongue down when he tries to pronounce “g” words. I don’t know of many children who actually like a tongue blade on their tongues but this boy knows when he needs that extra assistance.
Which brings me to a few suggestions if you happen to have a child who makes these kind of errors. Please ignore it if they are under four years of age – you can model the correct production but don’t worry about “fixing” it just yet. Once a child is four years or older, they might benefit from extra help. First your child needs to perceive the difference when he hears these sounds. I like to show pairs of pictures – pictures of objects or words that sound the same with the exception of the target sound. These are called minimal pairs. For example, you could show a picture of a green traffic light for “go” and a baker making “dough”. Have your child point to the pictures as you name them. It helps if you mix up the order so they really have to listen. Other pairs may include: date/gate, go/doe, guy/die, gown/down. Once your child can hear the difference consistently, help him produce a, “g” sound. Sometimes it helps children when they look in a mirror to see where their tongue is positioned. Another strategy is to tip their chin up so gravity will help their tongue move to the correct spot. You could also show them a gargling or chugging sound (g, g, g, g) as you tip your chin back. If you keep the activities playful, children are less likely to get frustrated.
It is always a good idea to consult your local speech therapist if your child has extreme difficulty with any area of communication.
Returning to the child I introduced at the beginning of today’s blog, as he stood with his face pressed through my ramp balusters, I touched his chin. He lifted it slightly and said, “g”. Then he said, “I want to go to speech.” His speech has improved substantially over the last year but there are times he is still difficult to understand. However, its been a long time since I heard him say, “ne my”. He is determined to make himself understood.