Speech Sounds

When Is Speech Therapy Needed for the /R/ Sound?

As a speech-language pathologist, I’ve seen the benefits of speech therapy firsthand for so many children. And while it can be an investment, it’s 100% worthwhile. Everyone deserves the gift of being a clear communicator. 

So if your child is struggling with their /r/ sound, how do you know if they’re ready for speech therapy? 

As I’ve mentioned, most children acquire the /r/ sound by 5 years of age. By the time a child is starting kindergarten, they should be able to say all speech sounds very well.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your child is at least 4 years old and their /r/ sound isn’t improving over time, it’s a good idea to seek an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist.

Sometimes this can be easier said than done. Some therapy practices have long wait lists, and there can be hoops to jump through like insurance. However, even with these hurdles, it’s important not to wait too long to get started. 

I’m sure you have a few questions about speech therapy. How is my child evaluated? How does it all work? 

Let’s discuss some of the basics. 

One of the first things I cover with families is that speech therapists go through extensive schooling, training, and credentialing. There is no one else more qualified in speech production than a speech therapist! 

During your first appointment, your speech therapist will perform an evaluation. They’ll ask about your child’s medical history, perform a series of assessments, and observe your child’s speech. They’ll also make notes of any sounds giving your child trouble–including the /r/ sound. 

We encourage caregivers to provide as much information as possible about your child’s speech, and ask any and all questions you have. Your speech therapist isn’t just your child’s teacher–they’re also your coach. It’s important to find a therapist who’s not only experienced, but someone you feel comfortable and confident working with. 

Once the evaluation is complete, your therapist will write up a report and personalized treatment plan for your child. The treatment plan will include speech therapy goals specific to your child’s needs. These goals will allow the therapist to monitor how your child is progressing as they work to reach their next milestone. 

Let’s discuss how these goals are usually written.

An /r/ speech therapy goal will be specific to what type of /r/ production is being targeted–prevocalic, vocalic, or /r/ blends. It will also identify whether the child should be working on the sound in the beginning, middle, or final position of words.

The goal will also specify which complexity level you’ll start working on in therapy, such as syllable level or conversation level.

And finally, your speech therapist will set an expected accuracy percentage that your child should meet over the course of several sessions.

Here’s an example of a real speech therapy goal:

In the next 2-3 months, the client will demonstrate the ability to independently produce /r/ in the initial position of words with 90% accuracy across 3 consecutive sessions, in order to communicate more clearly in daily situations.

As you can see, these goals are written to be specific and measurable. That way you and your speech therapist can track progress week to week.

Your child will likely attend sessions at least once a week. During these sessions, your speech therapist will use games and activities that are motivating for your child. Your therapist wants speech therapy to be fun and encouraging! 

As they work together, your speech therapist will be listening very closely to your child’s speech production. All speech therapists have trained ears to catch sounds and words that aren’t pronounced correctly. Throughout the session, your speech therapist will show your child how to move their tongue or mouth in order to improve their /r/ production. 

Don’t stress if it takes several sessions before you hear a good /r/ sound. Children often need a lot of time and repetition before that first /r/ sound is heard. Like I’ve said before–it’s one of the hardest sounds to learn and to teach! 

One question I often hear from families is how long speech therapy typically lasts for the /r/ sound. 

There’s no one simple answer here. It depends on a few factors. For one, the child’s age plays a huge part. If a child is too young, they may not be ready for this sound yet. Some children simply need a little more time. But on the other hand, older kids have more years of saying /r/ in an incorrect way, and it can be harder for them to break habits. 

If your child struggles with many different /r/ productions, they’ll likely be in speech longer than a child who just has one or two areas to work on. All children and their specific needs are different. 

Motivation is also a factor in how long therapy takes. When a child wants to improve their own speech, that can make a big difference! You and the speech therapist can talk with your child about what would be motivating to them. Maybe they want their friends to always understand what they’re saying. Or maybe they want to be more confident when ordering food at a restaurant. 

And finally, here’s perhaps the biggest factor that affects the duration of therapy: how often you practice at home. I really can’t stress this enough. 

Many families think that speech therapy alone is what will help a child improve their speech. And yes, therapy is a big part of it. But there has to be practice and carryover between sessions in order for children to make progress as quickly as possible. Make sure any speech therapist you choose provides regular home practice ideas, activities, and exercises. This can make all the difference.

So what are the key things we learned in this section?

  • If your child is at least 4 years old and their /r/ sound isn’t improving, it’s a good idea to contact a speech-language pathologist.

  • Your speech therapist will evaluate your child and create a treatment plan with specific goals. This will allow the therapist to monitor how your child is progressing. 

  • How long therapy takes depends on factors such as your child’s age, which /r/ sounds they need to work on, and their motivation.

  • But the biggest factor is likely how often your child practices at home.

Mastering the /r/ sound is hard work! And I know it may feel overwhelming at times. Rest assured that in seeking help, you’re doing the very best thing for your child. Everyone deserves the ability to be a strong and confident communicator, and that’s exactly what you’re helping your child become. Kudos to you, and keep it up!

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