Phonological Processing Disorder

A phonological processing disorder affects a child’s production and/or mental representation of speech sounds. 

A phonological disorder is commonly misdiagnosed as an articulation disorder; however, it is very different. A phonological disorder affects how a child organizes the sounds and understands the speech rules of a language. 

What are phonological processes?

To understand phonological processing disorders, you must understand phonological processes. 

Phonological processes are the natural way children simplify language as they learn to speak. Speaking like an adult takes quite a bit of coordination of the tongue, lips, breath, jaw, and voice. Therefore, as children learn to speak, they will naturally simplify words to make it easier to say. These processes are normal and expected!

For example, one common process is called “final consonant deletion.” A child who uses this process will delete the last syllable of multi-syllabic words. He or she may say “wa” for “water.” This is normal and usually, disappears by 3 years of age.

Phonological disorders occur when the processes persist past the age when they are supposed to disappear. The link below takes you to a chart of common processes and the age when they are supposed to disappear.

What causes a phonological processing disorder?

Usually, there is no known cause. 

Phonological disorders affect about 10% of preschool children (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 1994). 

However, research is showing that children with phonological processing disorders often have delays in expressive/receptive language skills. This may indicate there is something going on with their entire language system. That is for another page though!

How to tell the difference between articulation and phonological disorders

Articulation disorders and phonological disorders are very similar. Therefore, they are often confused and misdiagnosed.

Some key characteristics of phonological processing disorders include:

  1. Significant decreased intelligibility
  2. Unusual articulation errors
  3. Common patterns of speech errors.

This list is not exhaustive. If you suspect a problem, please contact a speech-language pathologist for an evaluation or call us!


The overall goal of treatment is to improve speech intelligibility!

To accomplish this, a child must:

  • Learn how to say sounds correctly
  • Organize sounds of their language in the correct pattern

Sensory-Motor Approach

Sensory-motor approach: This treatment approach targets both the perception (hearing/differentiating sounds) and production of sounds (verbally producing the sounds). To accomplish this, the child completes:

  • Auditory Bombardment: This technique targets the perception portion. A child is exposed to MULTIPLE exposures of a target sound. For example, a speech-language pathologist may read a word list, a book, or play a game that has MULTIPLE words with target sounds.
  • Motor Speech Therapy: This resembles typical speech therapy where a child learns how to say a sound in isolation and moves through the levels until connected speech. The target sound is practiced at the initial, medial, and final word position. Feedback and cueing are provided (tactile, verbal, and visual) and are faded as able to create independence. To learn more about the details of “traditional” speech therapy, please refer to the speech therapy treatment page. 

Cycles Approach

The Cycles Approach was created by Hodson & Paden and is widely used with children who have phonological processing disorders.

This treatment again combines: 

  • Auditory bombardment with “typical” articulation/motor speech therapy.
  • However, this approach “cycles” through error sounds instead of working on one or two sounds until mastery. 

Minimal Pairs

Minimal pairs are two words that differ by one phoneme. Minimal pairs target sound perception and production.

  • The 2 words within the minimal pair will usually have the error sound and the correct sound.
  • For example, if a child is substituting /t/ for /b/, a minimal pair might be “tag” and “bag.” 
  • The child has to identify which word is which and/or produce both words correctly to learn their contrasting features
  • Learn more about ALL the contrastive approaches here

Take-Away Messages

I learned some important take-away messages during my research review that I wanted to share with you.

  1. Treating both early and later acquired sounds is effective for treatment; however, treating later acquired sounds first may provide greater, more widespread results.
  2. Treating non-stimulable sounds may be more effective and efficient than treating stimulable sounds even though both will work.

FREE Phonological Processes Chart By Age

If you would like a FREE phonological processes chart organized by age, just fill out the form below.

I love it! It organizes phonological processes by the age they should disappear. It is one page and color coded for easy reference.

Free Phonology Chart

Sign up below to grab a free copy!


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