Exploring the /R/ Sound in Articulation Disorders
This week, we are taking a fresh and in-depth look at articulation disorders in children, including trying to decipher what is fact, fiction and frankly what you need to know about articulation disorders in relation to normal speech development milestones. As we drill down into the nitty gritty of articulation disorders, today we are choosing to focus on pronouncing the sound of /R/.
Articulation Disorder: Mis-pronouncing the Letter /R/:
Believe it or not – there is a scientific and medical term associated with the phenomena of mispronunciation of the letter /r/. The term Rhotacism refers to inability of difficulty of pronouncing the sound of /r/. When this happens, the pronunciation of the /r/ sounds more like the letter /w/. Think Barbara Walters, or as Saturday Night Live liked to spoof, “Baba Wawa” or Elmer Fudd. Of course, when your child is learning to talk, sometimes it’s cute to hear your child say “wabbit” instead of rabbit, or “twain” instead of train. However, if it’s not corrected, as your kids get older and cannot express themselves clearly, they run the risk of being teased by their classmates and even worse, being afraid to speak up at all.
How do you know when it’s time to step in and seek some sort of speech therapy? Generally, these four guidelines can help you:
- Is your child feeling frustrated when he is trying to speak?
- Is his speech difficult to understand?
- Is his speech a source of amusement or teasing from others?
- Is he older than the recommended age where articulation disorders generally tend to subside? (In this case, the /r/ sound should be mastered by the age of eight).
Research has shown that 7.5% of school age children have an articulation disorder and the letter /r/ has proven particularly difficult. Because /r/ comes before and after vowel sounds, a child would need to learn different combinations of the /r/ sound, not just the sound itself. The combination of the /r/ with a vowel is called a phenome, and in speech there are eight phonetic combinations that include the letter /r/. These include:
- AR as in car
- AIR as in software
- EAR as in beer
- ER as in butter
- IRE as in tire
- OR as in seashore
- RL as in girl
- Prevocalic R as in rain
First you will need an assessment from a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). A speech evaluation by an SLP will help decide if your child will outgrow the problem. A therapist screens all areas of a childs’ communication abilities and does an in-depth assessment of the particular disorder, in this case the letter /r/. A complete speech therapy evaluation must take into consideration all the possible combinations of the /r/sound.
After diagnosis, you should expect a speech therapist to work with you on therapy options. These options may include weekly visits, augmented with homework and practice instructions. Therapy would be conducted over a period of weeks, followed by a break. A follow-up visit would be required to review progress. Another possible treatment is using a speech therapy hand- held tactile tool, such as Speech Buddies, that would help isolate the sound and provide proper tongue placement for correct pronunciation. Often, the two therapies can be combined. A third option would be to search for online resources that you can conduct with your child. We have listed a few resources at the bottom of the page.
Industry standards have indicated that many children find success in approximately 14 hours. In a recent study published in the Fall 2013 issue of eHearsay: Electronic Journal of the Ohio Speech-Language Hearing Association, a clinical study tested traditional speech therapy methods against a hand-held tactile tool (Speech Buddies). The results showed that students who used the tools showed improvements 33% faster than those using traditional speech therapy methods.
Regardless of the therapy you choose for your child’s articulation disorder, in particular the sound /r/, the overall prognosis is good with early intervention and treatment in treated in the initial years.