Speech-language pathologists’ views on the severity of speech sound disorders in children

Anniek van Doornik, HU University of Applied Sciences, & Utrecht University, the Netherlands (
Ellen Gerrits, HU University of Applied Sciences, & Utrecht University, the Netherlands (
Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Hayo Terband, Utrecht University, the Netherlands (
Marlies Welbie, HU University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands (

Background: Successful communication in daily life is important for full participation in society. For young children, this includes the ability to talk with friends and family and engage in education. Speech sound disorders (SSD) influence participation in the daily lives of young children because of the breakdown of communication. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) diagnose the severity of SSD in children, commonly based on a description of speech features; however, the concept of severity, is not well defined.

Aim: The aim of the current study was to identify factors that, according to SLPs, contribute to the severity of SSD.

Method: During a qualitative study with 82 SLPs working in SLP practices and special schools, core indicators of the severity of SSD were identified. A combination of procedures such as keyword sampling, and a focus group interview generated the data for the analysis. Thematic analysis was used to answer the research question in this study.

Results: SLPs’ responses indicated that they consider severity as a multifactorial concept, including speech characteristics, intelligibility, communicative participation, children’s perspectives about the speech problem, and parents’ perception of the speech problem.

Conclusions: An estimation of the severity of SSD requires evaluation of speech features, as well as children’s intelligibility, their perception of their speech problem, and participation in daily life.

Implications for children: Speech-language pathologists like to talk with you and your parents. It is important that you tell them about your speech, and if you have problems when you are talking with your family, friends and even with people who don’t know you well. SLPs will think carefully about what you say to help them understanding how they can help you and your family.

Implications for families: Speech-language pathologists are trained in describing the speech of your child, but, for a full understanding of your child’s speech, they need to consider insights from you and your child too.

Implications for practitioners: As speech-language pathologists, you are well trained to assess and diagnose children with speech sound disorders (SSD); however, the impact of an SSD may vary from child to child. When determining the severity of SSD you should consider parents’ perspectives, children’s perspectives, and intelligibility.

Funding: This research was funded by HU University of Applied Sciences, Utrecht, grant number DHR\PD-MP\2015-1300-1299-1303 awarded to the first author. The fourth author was also supported by The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO-VENI grant number 275-89-016).

Key words: children’s voices, families’ voices, professionals’ voices, wellbeing, communication, health, qualitative methods, quantitative methods, theory, speech sound disorders, intelligibility

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: