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Articulation Disorder vs. Phonological Disorder: What’s The Difference?

So, you just received your child’s speech and language evaluation, and they were diagnosed with an articulation or phonological disorder…but, what does that mean?

Articulation and phonological disorders fall under an umbrella term: Speech sound disorders, which refers to any difficulties with producing or understanding sounds.

What is an articulation disorder?

Articulation refers to your child’s ability to produce individual sounds. These sound errors will be consistent no matter where they are in a word.

The different types of articulation errors include the following:

  • Substitutions: replacing one sound with another. EX: ‘broder’ for ‘brother’
  • Omissions: deleting a sound in a word. EX: ‘poon’ for ‘spoon’
  • Distortions: sounds that are produced in an unfamiliar way, lisps are common distortions EX: ‘thun’ and ‘sun’
  • Additions: adding an extra sound to a word EX: ‘buhlack’ for ‘black’

Articulation errors may also be attributed hearing difficulties, or structural abnormalities, such as missing teeth, cleft palate, etc. An oral mechanism exam can be performed by your speech language pathologist to determine any structural abnormalities. It is also recommended that your child get a hearing screening.

What is a phonological disorder?

phonological disorder refers to difficulty understanding the sound system and speech rules. Children may be able to say a sound in some words but not in others. For example, a child may be able to say the sound ‘b’ in the word ‘bee’ but will leave off the ‘b’ at the end of the word ‘web.’

Children with a phonological disorder will demonstrate use of one or more phonological patterns:

  • Fronting: replacing ‘K’ and ‘G’ sounds with ‘T’ and ’D’
  • Gliding: Replacing ‘R’ and ‘L’ sounds with a ‘W’.
  • Final consonant deletion: leaving off the final sound in words even though they can produce the sound in the beginning or middle of other words

This is not an exhaustive list. There are lots of phonological processes. Some of these processes are normal as a child develops, but if they persist beyond a certain age it is recommended to seek speech therapy.

So, what does therapy look like?

Therapy looks different depending on the nature of the speech sound disorder. An articulation approach is motor based, meaning that the speech language pathologist will work with the child to help them coordinate their lips, tongue, jaws, and cheeks to produce their target sound. A phonological approach focuses on the pattern the child is using and teaching the child that sounds have different meanings. There are several different ways to target phonological disorders and your speech language pathologist will determine the best fit for your child.

In some children, articulation and phonological disorders can occur at the same time. A speech language pathologist will do a speech sound analysis, which is a list of all sound errors and patterns used in your child’s speech.

Now what?

There are some speech errors that are appropriate depending on your child’s age. You should talk to your child’s speech language pathologist or seek consultation if you have concerns about your child’s speech and their ability to be understood by others.

– Jordan Lamblin, M.S., CCC-SLP

Phonological disorder. Phonological disorder | Speech sound disorders | Speech language and communication problems we help | Speech clinic | SLT for Kids | Speech & Language Therapy, across Manchester & the North West. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2022, from
“Speech Sound Disorders: Articulation and Phonology.” Speech Sound Disorders: Articulation and Phonology, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association,