Australian children with cleft palate achieve age-appropriate speech by 5 years of age

16 April 2019

Introduction: Children with cleft palate demonstrate atypical speech sound development, which can influence their intelligibility, literacy and learning. There is limited documentation regarding how speech sound errors change over time in cleft palate speech and the effect that these errors have upon mono versus polysyllabic word production. The objective of this study was to examine the phonetic and phonological speech skills of children with cleft palate at ages 3 and 5. Methods: A cross-sectional observational design was used. Eligible participants were aged 3 or 5 years with a repaired cleft palate. The Diagnostic Evaluation of Articulation and Phonology (DEAP) Articulation subtest and a non-standardised list of mono and polysyllabic words were administered once for each child. The Profile of Phonology (PROPH) was used to analyse each child's speech. Results: N=51 children with cleft palate participated in the study. Three-year-old children with cleft palate produced significantly more speech errors than their typically-developing peers, but no difference was apparent at 5 years. The 5-year-olds demonstrated greater phonetic and phonological accuracy than the 3-year-old children. Polysyllabic words were more affected by errors than monosyllables in the 3-year-old group only. Conclusions: Children with cleft palate are prone to phonetic and phonological speech errors in their preschool years. Most of these speech errors approximate typically-developing children by 5 years. At 3 years, word shape has an influence upon phonological speech accuracy. Speech pathology intervention is indicated to support the intelligibility of these children from their earliest stages of development.