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I was crossing a school hall when a child came up to me. “Do you help children with their speech?” he asked. I said: Yes. He explained that he could not say twenty, that he said the word as though it was QUENTY, and that whenever he was heard to do this, the other children in his class all laughed.

Most speech pathologists call this sort of thing a ‘process’. But this is an unusual process in this position in this word. It is what linguists call ‘dissimilation’ or ‘disharmony’– making a sound more different than it should be from another similar sound in the same word – in this case making the first T  more different from the second T, by turning it into a back-of-the-tongue K instead of a tongue-tip T.

At just six, Leo was in fact the youngest self-referral that I have ever had. But as an uncommonly self-aware child, he had the speech of a four year old.

After eleven half-hour sessions over three months, with Leo saying around 1,000 pseudo-words in all, bearing on a wide variety of relations between the stress pattern and the sound-structure, his speech was age-appropriate, having made up two years in terms of developmental age, in less than six contact hours.

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