Speech characteristics of 8-year-old children with speech difficulties: Findings from a prospective population study

TitleSpeech characteristics of 8-year-old children with speech difficulties: Findings from a prospective population study
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsWren, Y, McLeod, S, White, P, Miller, Laura, L, Roulstone, S
JournalJournal of Communication Disorders
Number of Volumes46
Start Page53
Number of Pages16

Speech disorder that continues into middle childhood is rarely studied compared with speech disorder in the early years. Speech production in single words, connected speech and nonword repetition was assessed for 7,390 8-year-old children within the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). The majority (n=6,399) had typical speech and 50 of these children served as controls. The remainder were categorised as using common clinical distortions only (CCD, n=582) or speech difficulties (SDiff, n=409).  The samples from the CCD children were not analysed further. Speech samples from the SDiff and the control children were transcribed and analysed in terms of percentage consonants correct, error type and syllable structure. Findings were compared with those from children in the Shriberg et al. (1997) lifespan database (n=25). The 8-year-old children from ALSPAC in the SDiff and control groups achieved similar speech accuracy scores to the 8-year-old children in the lifespan database. The SDiff group had consistently lower scores than the ALSPAC control group, with the following measures most clearly differentiating the groups: single word task (percentage of substitutions and distortions), connected speech task (percentage of vowels correct PVC, percentage of omission of singletons and entire clusters, and stress pattern matches), nonword repetition task (PVC, percentage of entire clusters omitted, percentage of distortions, and percentage of stress pattern matches). Connected speech and nonword samples provide useful supplementary data for identifying older children with atypical speech.

Practical Implications

Practical implications:
Speech assessment in children in middle childhood (age 8 upwards) is enhanced by samples of connected speech and nonword repetition in addition to the more typical single word analysis. Different errors are seen in each of the sample types. While single word picture naming should reveal substitution and distortion errors, problems with vowels are more likely to be revealed in connected speech and nonword repetition samples as are omissions and stress pattern errors.

Lay Summary

Lay summary:
Children vary considerably in the rate at which they develop their speech sounds. In the early years, many children may show a delay in acquiring some of their speech sounds and may make some errors in their speech such as substituting sounds or omitting them altogether. Many children make changes in their speech and are able to use the full range of speech sounds by the time they are aged 8. Some children however make errors in their speech production after this age. However, these errors might not appear when the child just uses single words as they might do in answers to questions from adults for example. This study shows that children make different types of errors when they speak in sentences (connected speech) and in tasks where they repeat made up words (nonword repetition) compared to when they speak in single words. It is important therefore that assessments of children at this age include a range of tasks which require a child to talk in sentences and conversation as well as repeating made up words and using single words.

KeywordsALSPAC, articulation, epidemiology, persistent speech disorder, Phonology, population study, speech