That Tricky “TH” Sound – When Should You Be Concerned? Pediatric Speech Therapists Weigh In.
Does your child say “brudder” for “brother”? “Dat” for “that”? “Fing” for “thing”? As our Fort Myers pediatric speech therapists can explain, the ‘th’ sound is one that develops later for a lot of kids. Some master it sooner, often when they start school and are constantly interacting with older kids. Others continue making this error. Most child development experts agree this is a sound that should usually be developed by age 7 or 8, though it’s certainly something you can begin working on earlier.
Of course, all children develop at their own pace, and a singular issue doesn’t necessarily mean your child is going to need speech therapy, particularly if your child is younger than 7 and your only concern is the “th” sound. Still, most kids develop their speech sounds in the same general order, beginning in the first year of life. (The American Speech-Language Hearing Association has a development chart you can use for reference.) The key is if you notice a delay, you don’t want to wait too long in addressing it.
An assessment from a licensed child speech therapist can help you determine if it’s something your child will likely grow out of or whether they need some additional help. Waitlists for child speech-language therapy services in Southwest Florida can be lengthy, so it’s best to inquire sooner than later if you have a question.
There are lots of reasons a child might struggle with speech-language skills. Trouble with the “th” sound is a type of articulation issue.
Articulation is the way the lips and tongue are positioned against teeth and the roof of the mouth to make sounds that will ultimately blend together to make words. Lots of kids make mistakes when learning to say new words. It only becomes a “disorder” when they keep doing it beyond a certain age.
“Th” is one of the sounds most commonly mispronounced, along with r, s, l, “ch,” “sh,” j and “zh” (that last as in the word beige). An “articulation disorder,” means a child’s speech development isn’t keeping pace with other kids the same age. A child who is older than 7 and still struggling with the “th” sound should be assessed by a speech-language pathologist.
A Tale of Two “Th” Sounds
Lots of children have trouble making the “th” sounds, at least at first. There are actually two different “th” sounds. Both are made with the mouth in the same position, but there is a slight variation in the voice. The soft “th” sound is the one that makes words like, “this,” “although” and “that.” The one that’s more difficult for many kids is the one that makes the harder “th” sound, as used in words like “therapy” or “thanks.”
It’s a subtle difference that perhaps only pediatric speech therapists would be much concerned with, but it does make a difference in the kind of exercises we’d use to work on it.
The good news is the “Th” sound is one of the most visual sounds for our Fort Myers pediatric speech therapists to teach. It requires putting your tongue between your teeth and simultaneously blowing air. Lots of kids can imitate this fairly easily, and then it’s just a matter of practice. The level and frequency of practice will depend on your child’s development.
You might start with just practicing saying “Th” sound all by itself several times. Then combine it with just a few short vowels or long vowels, starting with the “th” at the beginning of a syllable then at the end and then in the middle. Whatever syllable combo your child struggles with most will tell you which words you want to practice (is it in the middle like in “other” or “brother” or is it at the beginning like with “the” and “they”?)
A speech therapist can give you a list of practice words to start – with pictures if possible. At FOCUS, our speech therapists like to turn practice like this into fun games like bingo, memory or go fish. Once the child is able to say the 15-20 practice words correctly about 80 percent of the time, then we’ll work on more precise accuracy and/or putting them in sentences.
If you have questions or concerns with your child’s speech-language development, our dedicated pediatric speech therapists in Fort Myers are here to help answer your questions and review your options.
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?, ASHA Development Chart
More Blog Entries:
4 Things to Look for in a Florida Speech Therapist for Kids, April 19, 2021, Best Southwest Florida Speech Therapist for Kids Blog