But what about older kids and young adults?
What we know
Research is sketchy, but our best evidence is that:
- 1 to 2% of the young adult population present with speech sound errors that are:
- “residual” – leftovers from treated speech sound disorders; or
- “persistent” – untreated speech sound errors that haven’t fixed themselves with time;
- these young adults tend to ‘distort’ sounds like:
- sometimes, the sounds are completely wrong, like saying /w/ for /r/ or /l/, or /s/ and /z/ with a slushy, lateral lisp;
- other times, the sounds are almost right, but still different enough from their peers’ speech for people to notice;
- usually (not always), these speech problems do not affect:
- intelligibility: people can still understand them; and
- academic achievement;
- but these speech errors can hurt an older child or young adult’s:
- social life; and
- employment prospects; and
- overall quality of life (e.g. Crowe Hall, 1991; Allard et al., 2008).
Do young adult speech problems self-correct?
Good news: we think that about 60-75% of young adults with residual speech problems will sort them out by the end of high school without special help.
Bad news: we don’t know which young adults will self-correct their errors (or why or even how)!
Is it too late to seek help from a speech pathologist?
Early intervention is the best option (if you have the option). And the longer the client makes the error, the harder it can be to shift.
In my work with older children and young adults, I’ve found long-term speech errors:
- are more therapy-resistant than short-term ones;
- can be tricky if the wrong sound has been reinforced inadvertently for years, e.g. by applauding a child’s story about the “thilly wittle wabbit” (cute at 3, not so much at 15);
- take creativity (and a good sense of humour!) to tackle in an age-appropriate and engaging way. For example, I have been experimenting recently with randomised practice kits based on principles of motor learning tied to a client’s passion (whether it be Minecraft or Katy Perry);
- require team work, respecting the client as an adult, partner and decision maker, not a passive subject; and
- can be fixed with hard work, resilience and determination – but only if the client wants to change the sound(s) and is willing to do the work.
Finding the right time to do the work, the right speech pathologist for the client, and agreeing specific goals and workloads before you start are key to achieving good outcomes – especially with teens and young adults.
- Lisp Fixer Course for Adults
- I’m an adult who lisps. Do I need speech therapy?
- “What did you say?” 10 evidence-based ideas to help others understand your speech
Principal source: Flipsen Jr., P. (2015). Emergence and Prevalence of Persistent and Residual Speech Disorders. Seminars in Speech and Language, 36(4) 217.