Is your child saying 'wabbit' for 'rabbit'?

Is your child:

  • Saying ‘W’ for ‘R’?
  • Saying, ‘wowuld’ for ‘world’?
  • Saying ‘gowul’ for ‘girl’?
  • Saying, ‘Kewee’ for ‘Kelly’?
  • Saying, ‘Dis’ for ‘this’?
  • Speaking in a way that is hard to understand?
  • Hearing people say they don’t understand him or her?
  • Having to say something a few times before being understood?


Some children have trouble speaking clearly. Clinically, we say that children with these challenges have a problem with speech articulation.

When articulation is an issue, family members and friends may say that the child ‘sounds so cute!’ One sign that your child may have a problem articulating sounds and speaking clearly is that people may say your child sounds like a cute cartoon character.

It may sometimes sound like the child is saying words that don’t exist in your language. Perhaps your child talks in a way that others don’t understand. Your child may seem to be using baby-talk long after his or her toddler years are over.

You may notice your child struggling to form sounds with his lips or to move his tongue appropriately. It may be that your child has to stop and try to figure out how to say a word and then may change the word to one that is easier to say.

Your child’s speech might sound “sloppy” or lazy when tired. In that case, you notice may notice his or speech getting worse at the end of a long day.

It may be that your child is constantly having people ask,


When a child doesn’t correctly articulate sounds or clearly pronounce them, his speech is difficult to understand. The child may substitute one sound for another. He may use ‘w’ for ‘r,’ for example.

Alternately, he may omit one or more sounds. For example, he might say, “sool” for “school.” This problem may cause others to misunderstand what he is trying to say. Or, perhaps people do figure out what your child is saying, but it takes an inordinate amount of repetition and clarification. It may be that the listener is doing a lot of guess-work to figure out what your child means to say.

Your child may have to repeat what he says often. He may demonstrate frustration and may not speak at all in certain situations. He may use a different word to make his point, instead of using the precise word he wanted to use to convey the message.  His teacher might notice kids ask him to repeat in class, or he may say that other kids ask him to repeat often or misunderstand what he says.

The teacher may notice that your child avoids speaking in class, answering questions or giving presentations. People may say she has an accent or ask if she speaks another language.

The older the child is, the harder it may be for him to make corrections or to copy when you try to model the correct pronunciation of sounds. He may think it is too difficult to change his speech and may cry when speech is discussed.

You may find a sibling speaking for her, or you may talk for her even without realizing it. When your child is learning how to read and you notice that the words he is reading are not being pronounced correctly, you may have concern.

When your older child reads aloud independently but is very difficult to understand conversationally at school and at home, you may worry. Challenges may be related to clarity, speed, volume or articulation. Any of these aspects can make language hard to understand.


If your child is saying wabbit for rabbit, an articulation disorder or phonological disorder may be present. Speech sound development might be delayed. You may notice sound substitutions, such as ‘w’ for ‘r.’

Sound omissions may occur if a sound or cluster of sounds is left out completely, such as ‘nana’ for ‘banana.’ If a word has a cluster of sounds like sk or bl, the second sound may be substituted or left out completely, such as “bwack” for black.

When your child talks, it may be that sounds are distorted or sound slurred.

A pattern of errors may occur, such as an impairment in the production of all the sounds in the back of the mouth, like ‘k’ and ‘g,’ or in the front of the mouth, like ‘t’ and ‘d.’ If back of the mouth sounds are produced in the front of the mouth, a child would say “tat” for “cat” or “doose” for “goose.”

Articulation errors may be consistent and frequent when speaking.

Your child may struggle with how to shape his mouth to speak clearly. This struggle can be due to:

tongue movement issues –  such as thrusting or a lateral lisp

motor-based disorders –  such as dysarthria or apraxia

structural disorders – such as a high palatal arch or cleft palate

or a sensory disorder – such as a hearing problem.

Syndromes such as Down syndrome can cause articulation disorders. Sometimes, a child may have multiple disorders that accompany an articulation disorder.

Falling down and knocking out a tooth or changing dental work may affect articulation. If a child is losing teeth and has dental appliances in her mouth, it can cause temporary speech issues that shouldn’t be confused with a true speech articulation disorder.


The light at the end of the tunnel is that most speech articulation issues are treatable. Early intervention often brings about great improvement or total remediation of these issues.

With therapy, certain strategies can be put into place to help change sound formation while also working on changing the patterns in the brain to improve articulation. As parents, you can talk to your child’s teacher, pediatrician, and a speech language pathologist. You can refer to trusted and professional websites, such as the American Speech and Language Hearing Association.

Determine with a professional if an observation or evaluation might be warranted. If your child is having difficulty correctly producing sounds after the age of 3 years, it is best to get some professional advice. Some kids quickly learn correct speech intelligibility, but others need intervention, and the earlier, the better is true for these interventions.

If you find that your child can imitate you, and you notice that she can correct her errors, you have a good indication that therapy will help. Sometimes, treatment can be informal, and a parent can introduce a home program with guidance from a professional. If problems persist, a formal approach with a Speech-Language Pathologist should be implemented.


If your child is struggling with a similar problem, not directly addressed in this section, see the list below for links to information about other related symptom areas.

  • Writing problems: children with articulation issues may make errors when speaking or writing
  • Reading problems: children with articulation issues may make errors when speaking or reading
  • Social Anxiety: children with articulation issues may demonstrate decreased confidence when communicating with others and may avoid social situations due to fear of being mocked


Children who have significant problems in this area may have any of the following potential disabilities. *Note, this information does not serve as a diagnosis in any way. See the ‘Where to Go for Help’ section for professionals who can diagnose or provide a referral.

  • Developmental Disability (Developmental Delay): children with developmental disabilities may have poor articulation
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: children with autism often have language delays or articulation disorders
  • Motor Speech Disorder (Speech Language Disabilities): articulation problems may be due to an oral-motor issue
  • Hearing loss or decreased hearing ability: children with hearing problems may also have articulation issues
  • Neurological disorders: children with neurological problems may have articulation difficulties
  • Genetic syndromes (cerebral palsy): genetic syndromes can cause speech problems
  • Delayed speech sound acquisition (ear infections, premature birth)
  • Tongue Thrust: children who have problems with tongue thrusting may have poor articulation
  • Lisp: children with lisps may have articulation problems


If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his learning, relationships, or happiness, the following professionals could help; they may offer diagnosis, treatment, or both.

  • Clear Child Psychology: to obtain a customized profile of concerns for your child or consult ‘live’ with a psychologist or speech pathologist
  • Speech- Language Pathologist: to provide therapy for articulation and language problems
  • Orofacial Myologists: to consider medical issues impacting speech ability
  • Orthodontists: to consider corrections to jaw, teeth, or mouth that may help speech ability
  • Dentists: to consider dental issues that may impact speech ability

A speech therapist may recommend the following test for this symptom:


[1] American speech and language hearing association

[2] State health department website for allied health services under speech language pathology

Image Credit:
Description: Girl is holding a cute little rabbit, outdoor shoot
Image ID: #142940072 (Big Stock)
By: Zcello
Previously licensed on: July 19, 2016
Stylized by Katie Harwood exclusively for CLEAR Child Psychology

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