A recent cross linguistic review on the acquisition of consonant phonemes by Sharynne McLeod and Kathryn Crowe may change the way we analyze and plan evidenced based articulation therapy.
The review consisted of 64 studies across 27 languages. The ages of the children ranged from 5 months to 12 years 11 months. The main conclusion drawn is that by 5:0, the majority of consonants were acquired and children were producing over 93% of consonants correctly. This is a significant difference from previous developmental norms and certainly not what I learnt at university.
The ultimate question on every speechie’s mind is caseload. What is this going to mean for me and will these new developmental norms lead to an excessive influx of articulation clients? Unfortunately for me that answer has already been a resounding yes. There are students that were advised to wait another year that now need another consultation and students who I have discharged for having ‘age appropriate errors’ who now need further assessments, and potentially ongoing therapy. My mind already hurts.
Before we all get overzealous and triple our caseload, I wanted to highlight a limitation of the study that I felt was very important. One limitation of the study, and something that will directly impact my caseload, includes the fact that the participants were all monolingual. Therefore we are yet to understand the implications of this research on multilingual children. While the study looks at multiple languages individually (27 to be precise) none of the participants were multilingual. I had mixed emotions when I read this as some of my students are EAL (English as a second language). So I continued to read further. McLeod and Crowe went on to state that “the summary data contained within the article cannot be extrapolated to all multilingual children’s consonant acquisition”.
While evidenced based speech sound developmental norms are extremely important in shaping our assessment and treatment of articulation students, the article also highlights the importance of capacity. It states that “SLPs should take developmental norms into account while concurrently assessing a child’s individual capacity.” This will ultimately lead to the best outcomes for the child. So while 5-year-old children should have acquired most consonants within their ambient language, individual variability should also be considered.