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The Dreaded /r/- My Journey in Conquering the Speech Sound We All Love to Hate!

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

We've heard it time and time again- "My daughter mixes her up her /w/ and /r/ sounds", "My son sounds like he's from Boston", etc., etc., etc.

The /r/ sound- the dreaded /r/ sound. It's arguably the hardest sound to learn and the hardest sound to teach; yet it's the sound that keeps us, as SLP's, in business because every child either can't say it or has a friend who can't say it. Difficulty saying the /r/ sound is THAT prevalent!

A child in a pirate hat saying the 'r' sound

Every SLP has his or her own way of targeting /r/. In my years of being an SLP, I've learned one thing- not every child learns from the same 'trick'! Also, the 'trick' that worked last session may not work the following session FOR THE SAME CHILD. Therefore, it is important to be flexible and to know several different facilitation strategies for /r/.

My journey to finding the right 'trick' or facilitation strategy for this persistent and perplexing speech sound error is this...

  1. Assess the sound in all word positions, blends, and vowel combinations. If there is a context in which the sound is better (maybe not perfect), START THERE! Have the child say words using that coarticulatory context ONLY for 1-2 sessions. Depending on his or her proficiency, you can start to then explore other contexts that are optimal for that child's /r/ production.

  2. If the child does not have a solid /r/ in any context, get your bag of tricks ready! Try all tricks in one session. If none of these work within the first few times of introducing them to the client, focus on the same 1-2 facilitation strategies for a couple of sessions and don't give up on that strategy if it doesn't work right away. If neither of those work for 1-2 sessions, move onto the next one.

  3. Once you have an additional coarticulatory context that is successful (or somewhat successful) for the child, repeat Step 1.

  4. If you are able to get an 'er', you are in good shape! You can effectively shape 'er' into any /r/+vowel combination with relative 'ease'. However, there may be some combinations (I'm looking at you, 'or'!) that remain slightly distorted.

  5. Of course, after you successfully obtain /r/ in all word positions, blends, and vowel combinations, repetition in order to obtain automaticity is key! Many of my clients will see the levels of therapy as linear (i.e., "Once I reach the phrase level, then I go to the sentence level"). This is not the case! I still incorporate word-level activities (I call it 'rapid fire') into every session in order to achieve automaticity. At the end of the day, if it is not automatic, most children will leave the therapy session saying, "See you latuh, Miss Kwisten," even if they were 100% accurate all session long.

  6. Last, but certainly not least, build in generalization activities from the get-go...yes, even before they reach conversational level. Have them read (or sing) the lyrics to their favorite song, engage in a shared reading activity with a motivating book and have them fill-in words containing the target sound, or tell their parent(s) about their day using good /r/ sounds in the ride home from school.

By following these steps and being flexible, I can assure you that you can have a successful journey to conquering the /r/ sound.

Or else, maybe we should all move to Boston and call it good?


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