Q&A: My 4 Year Old Cannot Articluate “F” “SH” and “S” Sounds

blockquote_bgMy 4 and 1/2 year old son is in special needs Pre-K mainly because of his speech, which is unclear. He cannot pronounce many sounds; for example, f, s, sh, etc. He is also speaking English only since he was 2 before which he spoke (very little) and understood Tamil. He still understands Tamil very well. My concern is school therapy doesn’t seem to be helping much. I feel the therapist is focusing on grammatical correctness, describing a picture using certain words, etc., which I feel my son can do very well when he wants to describe something he is interested in. So I just want to know if it is better for the school therapist to continue as is, or tell her to focus on articulation? I need to know which is better as I am not able to judge. Also will there be a behavioral change if my son is exposed continually to autistic or hyperactive children during school?

You can read over our article on articulation of sounds for young children and see that sounds such as /f/, /sh/, /s/ are sounds that even children who are native English speakers commonly mispronounce in early childhood. Since your son began learning English as a second language after age 2, it would be expected that he might have some difficulty with pronouncing words or with his clarity of speech when speaking English. Does he also have difficulty with clarity of speech when speaking your native Tamil? We also have an article on our site about early bilingualism which may be of interest to you.

I would discuss with your child’s speech therapist your concerns for wanting to focus his therapy on articulation of sounds and not grammatical correctness at this time. You may also want to speak to him or her about their background in working with children who are dual language learners. If your son is only showing a delay in expressive language, early intervention programs typically teach children in what is called the “least restrictive environment”, meaning your son should be able to attend a regular preschool classroom (for children without any delays) and receive his speech therapy services there rather than attend a program that is specifically for children with special needs. Having said that, preschoolers with varying abilities and diagnoses can co-exist in a classroom together very well, since children of this age are more accepting of differences than adults are. They can learn a lot from each other and also learn to be peer role models and learn tolerance and acceptance. If your son is in a classroom with children who have behavioral disorders, you may find him sometimes copying other children’s behaviors in order to gain attention from adults (especially if the other children receive a lot of extra attention for behavioral concerns), but you need not worry about him having lasting behaviors of this type. At 4 1/2 you can talk to him in simple language about why another child may be having a temper tantrum to get his needs met or may be flapping his hands when he gets excited, but tell your son that he is able to use his words when he wants something or express himself in ways that perhaps his friends cannot.