Understanding Speech Pathology Terms: A Guide For Parents and Educators

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Speech Pathology terms

As parents and educators, it is essential to have a basic understanding of speech pathology terms to support children and better understand the child’s needs and subsequent supports. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), commonly known as speech therapists, play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating various communication disorders. This guide aims to demystify some common speech pathology terms, empowering parents and educators to communicate better with SLPs, and aid children’s language development.


Articulation refers to the ability to produce speech sounds correctly. Some children may encounter challenges in articulation, leading to difficulties with pronouncing certain sounds or substituting one sound for another. For example, a child might say “wabbit” instead of “rabbit”. Speech pathologists can assess articulation challenges and provide targeted interventions to improve speech clarity. Read more about speech development here.


Being “stimulable” for a speech sound is being able to spontaneously say a sound correctly or having the potential to say that sound with minimal help. For example, if a child can almost say the ‘r’ sound and, with some guidance, they can get it right, they are stimulable for that sound.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Childhood Apraxia of Speech, often referred to as CAS, is a motor speech disorder that affects a child’s ability to plan and coordinate the precise movements of the articulatory organs (such as the lips, tongue, and jaw) necessary for clear speech production. CAS is characterised by the brain’s difficulty in sending accurate signals to coordinate speech movements.

Children with CAS may have inconsistent speech sound errors, difficulty sequencing sounds, and challenges in imitating speech. Their speech may appear effortful, and they might struggle to produce longer or more complex words and phrases.


Speech intelligibility refers to the degree to which spoken language is understood by listeners. It involves the clarity and comprehensibility of an individual’s speech sounds, words, and sentences. A child with low speech intelligibility is difficult to understand.

Phonological Delays and Disorders

Phonological disorders involve patterns of sound errors that affect multiple sounds in a systematic way. Neurodivergent children and those with a gestalt language processor might have difficulties with specific sound groups, making it challenging to understand their speech. Speech therapists can work with these children to address these patterns and improve overall speech intelligibility.

Understanding Speech Pathology Terms: A Guide For Parents and Educators » Understanding Speech Therapy Terms

Phonological Processes

  1. Assimilation: When a sound changes to become more similar to a neighbouring sound. For example, saying “gog” for the word “dog” (velar assimilation).
  2. Fronting: When sounds that are usually produced at the back of the mouth (like ‘k’ and ‘g’) are replaced with sounds produced at the front (like ‘t’ and ‘d’). For example, saying “tea” for the word “key”.
  3. Reduplication: Repeating a whole syllable, like “wawa” for “water”.
  4. Voicing: When a voiceless sound becomes voiced, like “pie” for “buy”.
  5. Final Consonant Deletion: Leaving off the last sound in a word, like “ca” for “cat”.
  6. Weak Syllable Deletion: Leaving off an unstressed syllable, like “nana” for “banana”.
  7. Cluster Reduction: Simplifying a consonant cluster (two or more consonant sounds together), like “top” for “stop”.
  8. Stopping: Replacing a fricative sound (like ‘s’ or ‘f’) with a stop sound (like ‘t’ or ‘d’), like “dun” for “fun” or “sun.”
  9. Deaffrication: Changing an affricate sound (like ‘ch’ or ‘j’) to a fricative (e.g. ‘s’ or ‘f’) or stop sound (‘t’ or ‘d’), like “dips” for “chips”.
  10. Gliding: Replacing a liquid sound (like ‘r’ or ‘l’) with a glide sound (like ‘w’ or ‘y’), like “wabbit” for “rabbit”.
  11. Fricative Simplification: Replacing a fricative sound (e.g. ‘th’) with a simpler sound, like “fum” for “thumb”.
  12. Backing: Replacing a sound produced further back in the mouth, like ‘g’ for ‘d’ (velar backing). For example, saying “got” for the word “dot”.
  13. Affrication: Changing a stop sound to an affricate sound, like “chicken” for “kitchen”.
  14. Initial Consonant Deletion: Leaving off the first sound in a word, like “at” for “cat”.
  15. Medial Consonant Deletion: Leaving off a consonant sound in the middle of a word, like “bu-er” for “butter”.
  16. Intrusive Consonants: Adding extra consonant sounds between vowels in a word, like “bank” for “back.”
  17. Denasalisation: Replacing a nasal sound (like ‘n’ or ‘m’) with a non-nasal sound, like “dot” for “not”.
  18. Favoured Sound: A sound that a child consistently uses in place of other sounds due to difficulty producing certain sounds.
  19. Coalescence: A linguistic phenomenon where two distinct sounds or phonemes blend or merge together into a single sound. The result is a new sound that shares characteristics of both original sounds, like “foon” for “spoon”.
  20. Epenthesis: Insertion of a segment (usually a schwa) in the middle of a word (usually between two consonants of a cluster). For example, if the original word is “athlete”, the epenthetic form would be “ath-a-lete”. In this example, the extra ‘a’ sound is inserted between the ‘th’ and ‘l sounds, resulting in “ath-a-lete”.
  21. Metathesis: Reversal or swapping of the position of two consonants in a word. For example, if the original word is “comfortable”, the metathetic form would be “comfterble”. In this example, the ‘r’ and ‘t’ sounds switch places, leading to the pronunciation “comfterble”.
  22. Migration: Movement of a sound from one position in a word to another. Here’s an example of a metathesis-related migration, if the original word is “ask”, the metathetic form would be “aks”. In this case, the ‘s’ and ‘k’ sounds switch places, leading to the pronunciation “aks” instead of “ask”.
  23. Diminutisation: The addition of the vowel at the end of a word, like “doggie” for “dog”.

Language Delay

A language delay occurs when a child’s language development lags behind their peers. It can affect both expressive language (speaking) and receptive language (comprehending). Neurodivergent children and those with a gestalt language processor might experience language delays, and early intervention by a speech pathologist can help them catch up and develop age-appropriate language skills.

Receptive Language

Receptive language refers to the ability to understand and comprehend spoken language. Neurodivergent children and those with a gestalt language processor may have difficulty following instructions, understanding questions, or grasping the meaning of words and sentences.

Auditory Comprehension

Auditory comprehension is like the brain’s ability to understand spoken language. It’s when you listen to someone talking and the brain processes the words and their meanings to make sense of what’s being said. This skill helps you follow conversations, understand instructions, and respond appropriately. Whether it’s a simple sentence or a complex idea, auditory comprehension allows you to grasp the messages conveyed through spoken words.

Expressive Language

Expressive language is the ability to communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings through spoken language writing, signs, gestures and AAC. Children with expressive language difficulties may struggle to use words and form sentences to convey their needs or engage in conversations.


Linguistics is the systematic study of language structure, including its sounds (phonetics and phonology), word formations (morphology), sentence structures (syntax), and meanings (semantics).


Metalinguistic skills involve the awareness and control of linguistic components of language. Simply put, it implies the ability to think and discuss language. These skills require an awareness of others as listeners and an ability to recognise significant details that indicate changes in speech. For example, you do not usually speak to a teacher in the same way you would speak to a friend. In addition, you do not typically speak in a restaurant the same way in which you speak in a museum. Noticing what kind of speech is appropriate in various environments with various speakers is reflective of metalinguistic skills.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

AAC refers to the use of communication tools and strategies to support individuals who have limited or no speech, or need supports to communicate in certain situations they may find difficult. These tools can range from simple picture boards to advanced electronic devices that help children express themselves effectively. Read more about AAC.

Multimodal Communication

Multimodal communication refers to the use of various communication methods and channels simultaneously or interchangeably to convey messages and interact with others. It involves combining different modes of communication, such as speech, gestures, facial expressions, body language, sign language, writing, pictures, and technology-assisted tools like Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. By integrating multiple communication modes, individuals can enhance their ability to express themselves, understand others, and engage in effective interactions across various contexts and environments.

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication encompasses the conveyance of information, feelings, and meanings through means other than spoken or written language. It includes facial expressions, gestures, body language, eye contact, posture, tone of voice, and touch. Nonverbal cues play a significant role in conveying emotions, attitudes, and intentions, often complementing or even contradicting spoken messages. This form of communication is universal and can be particularly important in situations where language barriers exist or when individuals may have difficulty expressing themselves verbally.

Presymbolic Communication

Presymbolic communication refers to the early forms of communication that occur before an individual begins using conventional symbols or words to convey meaning. This type of communication involves using gestures, facial expressions, vocalisations, and body language to express needs, wants, and emotions. It serves as a foundation for later language development and can include actions like pointing, reaching, showing objects, and making sounds to communicate effectively with others.

Symbolic Communication

Symbolic communication involves the use of symbols, such as words, gestures, or images, to represent and convey meaning. Unlike presymbolic communication, where meaning is conveyed through immediate actions or cues, symbolic communication relies on shared understandings of the meanings associated with specific symbols. Written language, spoken words, sign language, and even art and music are examples of symbolic communication.

Key Word Sign

Key Word Sign (KWS) is a tool or strategy which can be used to support children and adults with communication difficulties to understand and get their message across to others. KWS adds signs to spoken words. The key words in a message are signed. KWS is not a sign language, but it borrows the signs from the sign language of the country it is used in. In Australia, this is Auslan. Learn more here.


Vocalisation refers to the production of sounds using the vocal cords and the vocal tract. These sounds can include speech sounds, cries, laughter, and various other vocal expressions. Vocalisation is a fundamental aspect of human communication, allowing individuals to convey emotions, thoughts, and intentions through the modulation of pitch, tone, and intensity. In infants, vocalisation is an early form of communication before the development of words.

Activities of Daily Living

Daily living skills, also known as activities of daily living (ADLs), encompass a range of fundamental self-care tasks that are essential for a child’s well-being and development. These skills empower children to become more independent and confident in their daily routines. Examples of children’s daily living skills include personal hygiene activities (like brushing teeth and washing hands), getting dressed, eating, tidying up toys, using the restroom, and basic grooming tasks. Acquiring these skills is an important step in a child’s growth, fostering self-sufficiency, and setting a foundation for lifelong habits of responsibility and independence.


Pragmatics involves the social use of language, including understanding and using nonverbal cues, taking turns during conversations, and adapting language depending on the audience and context. Speech therapists can work on improving pragmatic skills to enhance social interactions. The focus of pragmatic language interventions is to improve relationships, not to teach neurodivergent individuals to interact in neurotypical ways. Read more about social communication.


Semantics is the branch of linguistics that focuses on the meaning in language. There are various aspects of meaning, including word definitions, synonyms, antonyms, connotations, and the ways words combine to create meaningful expressions.

Voice Disorders

Voice disorders can result from misuse or abuse of the vocal cords, leading to hoarseness, pitch problems, or loss of voice. Speech pathologists can assess and treat voice disorders, helping children use their voices effectively and safely.


Neurodivergent is a term used to describe individuals whose neurological development and cognitive functioning differ from the societal norms or majority. It encompasses a wide range of neurological variations, including but not limited to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette syndrome, and other developmental differences. Neurodivergent individuals may experience diverse ways of processing information, emotions, and sensory input. Embracing neurodiversity promotes the understanding that these neurological differences are a natural and valuable part of human diversity, and it encourages the creation of inclusive and accommodating environments that celebrate the strengths and capabilities of all individuals. Read more about neurodiversity here.


ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that can affect children. It is characterised by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can impact a child’s functioning and daily life. Read more about ADHD here.


Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that affects social interaction, communication, behavior, and sensory processing. Autism is characterised by a range of symptoms and challenges that can vary widely among individuals. Read more about autism here.


Monotropism is a concept in psychology and autism research that describes a cognitive style characterised by intense and narrow attention focus on a specific interest or topic. Coined by psychologist Dinah Murray in 1992, the term suggests that individuals with monotropic thinking tend to concentrate their mental efforts intensely on a single subject or activity at a time, often to the exclusion of other stimuli in their environment. This cognitive pattern is commonly associated with autistic individuals who may display exceptional expertise and knowledge in their areas of interest while showing challenges in shifting attention to different subjects or engaging in reciprocal social interactions. Monotropism helps explain the unique cognitive processing and information-seeking behavior often observed in autistic individuals. Read more about monotropism.

Gestalt Language Processor

Gestalt Language Processing (GLP) is a form of language development that starts with whole memorised phrases. Gestalt language processing means that a child learns language in longer strings that are related to emotional context. We can call these “chunks” gestalts or scripts. You may also have heard this referred to as “delayed echolalia”.

For example “I need a band-aid” may be a script that a child learns during a moment they have injured themselves and so they received a hug from their caregiver. So, the child later uses “I need a band-aid” to indicate they want a hug rather than literally asking for a band-aid. Read more about this in our blog Gestalt Language Processing Stages.

Within Normal Limits

Speech Pathologists often use the terms “within normal limits” and “delayed”, but what do these mean?

As Speech Pathologists, we rely on “norms”, or, averages. Using assessments and observations, we can determine where your child’s skills fit with other children their age. If their skills are about the same as most children their age, we say their skills are “age appropriate” or “within normal limits”. If their skills are below most children their age, we say their skills are “delayed” and we would recommend therapy to build up your child’s skills in these difficult areas.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness (PA) is the ability to manipulate sounds in words, and are important pre-literacy skills.

Understanding the Language of Speech Therapy » understanding speech therapy report

Phonological awareness delays might look like:

  • Difficulty identifying and making rhyme
  • Difficulty identifying the first, last or middle sound in a word
  • Difficulty breaking words up in to their sounds
  • Difficulty identifying syllables in words
  • Difficulty changing sounds in words

Read more about phonological awareness.

Other Useful Resources

Other Useful Resources

For more information on what your child’s speech and language skills should look like between the ages of 1 and 5, have a look at our milestones handouts here.

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