Children with physical disability can have a variety of difficulties with their speech. This page briefly describes some of these difficulties and the approaches used by Novita Children's Services speech pathologists to treat them.

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What is speech?


  • includes sounds that people make when they are trying to say something using their 'voice box', lips and tongue
  • is different to language which involves the understanding and use of words
  • is often referred to as ‘articulation’.

How does speech develop?

Children learn to speech gradually:

  • Babies begin to make sounds, including 'raspberries', squeals and repeated sounds.
  • Then they start putting sounds together (these sounds seem like words but they don’t make any sense).
  • Then they start to say use the repeated sounds as words, and start to use words for things. Usually only their family or people who know them well understand these early words.
  • Finally these words slowly begin to sound more like how adults say them and others begin to understand the child’s speech.

View more details about how speech develops

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Difficulties developing speech

Speech delay

A speech delay is when speech develops slower than normal, but follows the usual patterns of speech development of other children.

Speech disorder

Diagram showing main oral structures - lips, palate, pharynx, larynx, trachea, lungs & chest muscles.A speech disorder is when speech development is not following the usual patterns of other children’s speech development. It can be a disorder of either the production of sounds or the patterns of sounds that are produced. Forms of speech disorder include:

  • dysarthria -the most common speech disorder for children with physical disabilities. It is due to poor control and weakness of the muscles of the mouth and breathing. It can affect speech, voice and eating. Dysarthric speech may sound slurred and unclear
  • phonological disorder - involves using the wrong sound patterns and rules of speech
  • verbal dyspraxia - involves difficulty coordinating the muscles of the mouth, where this problem is not due to a physical disability. Children with dyspraxia have difficulty planning their speech. They also find it hard to get the movements that are necessary for producing speech and sound to happen in the correct order.

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Therapy approaches commonly used in Novita

Disclaimer: General information only - you should consult with the relevant professional before using it with a particular child. See disclaimer details.

Phonological processes

Children sometimes have difficulties with the sound patterns that we use in speech. They may use immature or unusual sound patterns. Examples of phonological processes are:

  • final consonant deletion - leaving the sounds off the ends of words (for example, ‘ba’ for ‘bag’)
  • cluster reduction – missing out one or more sounds in a group of consonants (for example, ‘bead’ for ‘bread’, ‘pay’ for ‘play’)
  • fronting – using sounds that are produced at the front of the mouth rather than those produced at the back (for example, ‘do’ for ‘go’).

Novita speech pathologists often use phonological processes as a basis for therapy. They explain to the child what process they are using and then teach the correct patterns, in a systematic and structured way.

The Nuffield Program

The Nuffield Program is a speech development program that:

  • is commonly used with children who have verbal dyspraxia or other speech difficulties
  • provides the child with a visual cue for each sound (for example, “s” is represented by a snake)
  • works in stages, beginning with production of single vowel and consonant sounds and moves through to various consonant and vowel combinations.

Oromotor stimulation or exercises

Oromotor stimulation includes a range of methods used by speech pathologists to:

  • encourage awareness of oral movements
  • teach a child about what they can do with their mouth.

For example, the speech pathologist may provide a set of oral exercises for a child to do before each therapy session or prior to a meal to stimulate oral movement.


Another common approach to communication therapy is Signing. Signing provides a visual ‘picture’ of spoken words. It is helpful because it can:

  • improve the child’s understanding of language
  • increase the child’s expressive language.

Key Word Signing Australia workshops are run regularly by Novita Speech Pathologists. Basic and Refresher workshops are available.

For information and to register view the   Key Word Signing Workshops - Information and Application Form (PDF - 120Kb).


AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. It is often used, either short or long term, for children who have speech difficulties by providing them with a communication method other than speech (for example, use of pictures or a communication device). For more information, go to the Augmentative and Alternative Communication page.

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Further information

Go to the Speech Pathology Australia factsheets page for information about:

  • Learning to speak and listen
  • Ages of speech sound development
  • Helping your child to learn to communicate

 Send an on-line message to Novita Speech Pathology

Disclaimer Detail: The above information on is of a general nature only and does not constitute advice. Novita Children's Services makes no representations, express or implied, as to the accuracy, usefulness, suitability or application of the information to a child's particular circumstances. Use of the information above is at your sole risk, and you should seek professional advice before acting or relying on the information. Novita Children's Services accepts no liability for any damages or loss that may arise from the use of, or any omission from, the information provided.
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The ability to speak clearly and distinctly.


Difficulty in smoothly co-ordinating muscles, for example, verbal dyspraxia involves poor co-ordination of the muscles that produce speech.


To do with the mouth.

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