WHY is "R" So Hard to Say?


 Does your child say "wabbit" for rabbit, "maw" for more or "bor" for bird? Did you know that the "R" sound is one of the TRICKIEST sounds to learn and one of the most frequent sounds in the English language? In fact, there are 32 variations of the "R" sound!! The "R" is somewhat of a CHAMELEON because it varies depending on what vowels surround it. There is the initial, middle and final "R", not to mention /r/ blends (e.g. cr, pr). Sounds like "B" or "F" are alot easier for a child because they can "see" how it is produced or easily understand a description of how to say it. Production of "R" is produced far back in the mouth and it can be produced with not only one way but two ways!  Try saying these words, care, air, rose, fire, truck. You will notice that the placement of your tongue changes for each word.


We see MANY children that have been receiving private therapy for "R" distortion for months and years without success. We also see many kids that are currently receiving speech therapy at school with the same subpar resluts.  WHY IS THIS?  Mainly because they are taught in groups and not given 1:1 indiviualized instruction.  In addition, they are not being taught HOW to move their articulators to produce an accurate "R". Often times during an evaluation I will ask a child such as this, How do you make your "R" sound"?  Sadly most of these kids in therapy cannot describe the physical process.  They also cannot determine if their sound is correct or incorrect.

"R" is certainly one of the last sounds to be mastered by children, often by 6 to 7 years of age and although it is a late sound, many children have this sound earlier. Since the sound is late developing many parents figure it will come with age or "correct itself". In many cases it will correct, but in some cases therapy may be the best line of fire. Some research suggests selecting sounds for which the child has least ‘productive phonological knowledge’ because they will be easier to learn (e.g., Williams, 1991; Barlow & Gierut, 2002; Gierut, 2001). We at Huntington Speech and Feeding find that younger children are more maleable to learning sounds versus older children that have to "re-learn".

Not producing a correct "R" sound can impact letter-sound correspondence and of course spelling and writing output. It can also negatively impact esteem/interaction with peers and public speaking in front of the class.
So what can a parent do? An evaluation would be the first step in determining where to begin. In this evaluation the clinician can look at all "R" sounds in all word positions and determine where to begin.  The evaluator can also determine if there are any underlying oral motor issues like low muscle tone in the oral-facial region or structural issues such as tongue tie that may impact tongue movement. Once the evaluation is completed the therapist can develop a specific treatment plan and train the parent in carrying over activities and newly acquired skills.

If your child is not producing the "R" sound by first grade, you should consider consulting with a Speech-Language Pathologist. Please feel free to contact Huntington Speech & Feeding if you have any questions!




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