Speech-language Newsletter: October

Helping Parents understand the /r/ sound

Why is making the “R” sound so hard for some children?

From Super Duper Handy Handouts By Katharine F. Bedsole, M.S., CCC-SLP and Clint M. Johnson, M.A., CCC-SLP

The “R” sound is hard for some children because it is difficult to see the tongue when you say it and it is hard to explain to a child how to make it. Sounds like the “B” in “ball” and the “F” in “fish” are easier because you can show and tell a child to “put your lips together” to make a “B” or “bite your lower lip” to make an “F.” Additionally, the “R” sound is difficult because other sounds in the word may influence the way the “R” sounds and the way you say it. Look in the mirror and try saying these words slowly: robin, horn, and cover.Notice how the “R” sound looks and feels different as you say each word. In horn and cover, the “R” sound is different because of the vowels next to it.

Why is making the “R” sound so important?

“R” is important because it is a high frequency sound, meaning that it occurs more often in the English language than other sounds. Only the “N” sound and “T” sound occur more often (Shriberg & Kwiakoski, 1983). A child who has difficulty producing the “R” sound is sometimes hard to understand and may sound immature to his/her peers. This may embarrass the child and make it difficult to speak in social situations.

SPEECH: R set 1

I use the Entire World of R therapy approach to evaluate and treat /r/ phonologically, based on word position and individual sound.

Phonetically, /r/ has 8 distinct vocalic variations: /ar/. /air/, /ear/, /ire/, /or/, /er/, /rl/ and prevocalic /r/. Separated further by initial, medial and final word positions, there are 21 different types of /r/ in total.

Prevocalic /r/ like red, rabbit, read, rent, race, rake, row, rack, rain, ride, rob, rig

/ar/ like army, artist, arm, art, park, barn, heart, carpet, star, jar, guitar, car

/or/ like orbit, orchid, organic, organ, corn, horn, sports, horse, four, bookstore, door

/ire/ like iron, Ireland, ironed, ironing, tired, fireplace, hired, fireman, bonfire, tire, wire,

/ear/ like irritated, ears, irrigation, earache, cereal, hero, period, zero, pier, year, hear,

/air/ like airmail, airplane, airport, dairy, stairs, barefoot, canary, share, square, bear

/er/ like earth, herbs, early, earthquake, factory, battery, fingernail, flowerpot, finger

/rl/ like girl, squirrel, curl, pearl, world, swirl, admiral, barrel

There are many techniques used in speech therapy to help with the R sound. Some examples:

1. Place a straw, pencil, tongue depressor, twizzler or spaghetti laterally for retraction, curl up tongue tip and touch the alveolar ridge

2. Tongue tennis: tongue in one cheek, tongue popping against other cheek

3. Tongue clicking

4. Tongue time clock: Imagine mouth as a clock. Slowly touch tongue at 12 o'clock, 3, 6 and 9. Do it 24 times

5. Jaw droppers: with tongue touching alveolar ridge, slowly drop jaw and raise back to closed position. Do not tilt head. Do 10 times slowly.

6. Place a cheerio on the tip of the tongue and have her elevate it to the alveolar ridge. Phonate /r/ while holding it in that position

7. Push against a wall or table while producing /r/

8. Have the student put his thumb under jaw and push up while saying 'ee' and feel the tenseness of the muscle. Explain that the muscle should remain tight in /r/

9. Have the child elevate and curl tongue tip toward the velum, SLP used one finger or thumb to press against the back of the head at the base of the occipital bone, tell to push his tongue toward that point

10. Lay horizontally on the floor, relax tongue and allow it to fall back. Tighten the tongue and say /er/

11. Use the monkey hold- The tongue is a monkey, the teeth are branches, and the sides of the tongue are the monkey's hands. The monkey's hands hold the branches as you say 'er'

12. Move the tongue back from /l/ while voicing, with a tongue depressor, gently push the tip of the tongue back until you can insert the depressor between the tip and the alveolar ridge, or until /r/ results

13. Make the /k/ sound, freeze your tongue, and the say /er/

14. Teach the pucker sound and the smiley sound so the student can hear the difference when saying /w/

15. Raise the tongue and draw back the tongue along the rails of the inside of the maxillary teeth as you say /i/ resulting in /er/

16. Put tongue in /g/ position, curl the tongue up toward the palate, and growl like a dog

17. Show the child that the tongue is pulled back successively for production from /th/ to /z/ to /r/

18. On one breath rock back and forth from the /l/ to /er/

19. Sweep the roof of the tongue saying 'ah', stop them in correct spot and then bring tip down slightly

20. Instruct the child to say /sh/, then stop but maintain the tongue position, and then copy the /r/ leading to shur

Speech Therapy: Eureka Approach with the /r/ sound
How to Use Speech Buddies: R Tool

Do you produce the /r/ using the Back up/Bunched R or Retroflex method?

  • The bunched /r/ (high back): humping up back of tongue for silent /k/; having the sides of the back of the tongue touch the insides of upper back molars and relaxing the jaw).

  • The retroflex /r/: placing the tongue tip behind the upper front teeth; curling the tongue tip backward without touching the roof of the mouth; the lateral sides of the tongue should touch the insides of the upper back molars; and the jaw should be slightly lowered. The retroflex /r/ can also be facilitated by producing an /l/ with a slightly lowered jaw and sliding the tongue tip back farther and farther until you hear an /r/ production. If the client has a short frenulum, then the retroflex /r/ will be difficult.