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  • Laura Deer M.S. CCC/SLP, CAS

Why is "R" so h"AR"d? When do we st"AR"t to w"OR"k on it?

Why do so many children have difficulty with the “R” sound? When should my child start speech therapy for the “R” sound?

This is one of the most common speech errors in the English language because it isn’t just one sound….

  1. Prevocalic R – is the “R” in the beginning position of words such as in “robot” or “rabbit”. This is the “pure” form of “R”.

  2. Vocalic R – is the types of “R” that changes depending on the vowel it is paired with. Vocalic R can be in the initial, medial and final positions of words. The following are types of vocalic R:

  3. AR – as in “arm”, “party”, and “star”

  4. OR – as in “orange”, “story”, and “floor”

  5. ER – as in “earth”, “factory”, “purse”, and “letter”

  6. AIR – as in “airplane”, “barefoot”, and “pair”

  7. EAR – as in “ears”, “hero”, and “deer”

  8. IRE – as in “iron”, “tired” and “wire”

  9. R blends – there are many consonant blends including the “R” sound such as “FR” in “frog” and “DR” as in “drop”. Final “RL” as in “girl” is usually the hardest.

note: If you aren't sure if your child has an "R" problem, have them read off or imitate the words listed above. If it doesn't sound quite right or if your child has an "accent" then they are probably not saying their "R" sound correctly and might need help!

This sound is also challenging for many people to learn because it is a lingual sound without a lot of visual cues. Your jaw and tongue make subtle changes to make the sound correctly. Some children have difficulty just listening to the sound and figuring it out in their own body. Prevocalic “R” is often substituted for a “w” sound and prevocalic R is often omitted or distorted due to inaccurate tongue placement.

The “R” sound typically develops anywhere between 3 and 6 years old. As an overall rule: if the child is over 6 and is making any kind of “R” error then it is considered a delay. With any kind of delay, the earlier you receive services the easier it is to remediate. Other times families choose to start therapy earlier. You may want to start earlier for a variety of reasons such as:

  1. It affects the child’s intelligibility of speech.

  2. They have social or emotional problems due to the speech error.

  3. They have an abnormal distortion pattern.

  4. They are in therapy for other sounds and this sound can be worked on in conjunction with the other delayed sounds.

  5. They aren’t showing any progress on their own or with parent modeling.

  6. It is affecting school performance or want to prevent it from having an impact on school performance.

  7. Don’t want their child to get pulled out of class to get speech therapy in school.

  8. The child wants to fix it.

  9. If the child is an actor or performer.

I have seen rapid progress working with children around 5 and 6 years old on their “R” sound. I usually start with a type of “R” they are successful with and then move to more challenging areas. I focus on the positive and find ways to get immediate success. Then I move onto incorporating it into words, phrases and conversation as soon as possible. I love having families help be “speech buddies” to help with faster progress.

I’ve worked with older children on this sound as well. I’ve seen many children who have had many different speech therapists. They keep going to therapy with no results. The therapist keeps telling them they are wrong. They don’t get encouragement so they just stop trying. Why try at something you aren’t good at? When I work with children who are “burnt out” on therapy then we focus on the motivation to get them wanting to learn. Some sessions I don’t even work on “R” at all and just focus on motivation. At the end of the day, putting the goal on hold gets faster results. I then try a variety of strategies to help support the child as they learn to make the sound correctly such as visual, verbal and tactile cues. If something isn’t working, then we try something new!

I was actually in speech therapy for “R” when I was 4 years old. The therapist told my mom it is better to get it taken care of before I started school.

When to start speech therapy is really an individual decision. Generally speaking, the earlier you work on something the easier it is to correct, however, you don’t want therapy if you don’t really need it. The best time to start depends on a lot of factors as mentioned above. Starting early may benefit the child most. Waiting to see if the sound develops on its own may also be the best decision for your child. Therapy on a consultation basis (1-2 times a month) to provide parent training is the middle ground between the two choices. If you aren’t sure what is right for your child, contact Deer Speech Therapy for your free consult today!

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