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Rhotacism: A complete guide to this speech impediment

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Remember when you were a child and spoke by making your “R’s” sound like “W’s” and everything thought it was cute? That’s known as rhotacism and some people live with it even as adults. What is rhotacism, what is it like in other languages, and what are its symptoms? What does it look like as a speech impediment and what are some examples? What are its causes? How does it affect the brain ? Is it curable and how can it be fixed? This article will answer all your doubts about rhotacism. 

What is rhotacism?

Rhotacism is a speech impediment that is defined by the lack of ability, or difficulty in, pronouncing the sound R . Some speech pathologists, those who work with speech impediments may call this impediment de-rhotacization because the sounds don’t become rhotic, rather they lose their rhotic quality. It could also be called a residual R error.

It’s not such an uncommon phenomenon and actually also happens with the letter L , a phenomenon known as lambdacism . Sometimes people mistake these speech impediments for a lisp, of which they are not. Within the 2000-2001 school year, more than 700,000 students within the American public school system were categorized as having either a language impediment or a speech impediment. Ironically, all three speech impediments contain the troubled letter within them.

The word rhotacism comes from the New Latin rhotacism meaning peculiar or excessive use of [r]. The Latin word came from Ancient Greek word rhōtakismós which means to incorrectly use “rho” which is the equivalent of the Greek R. For language nerds, here’s a really great explanation of how the word came into being.

How does rhotacism work in different languages?

Rhotacism is, in theory , more common among people whose native language has a trilled R. For example, in Spanish the “rr” is a trilled R. Other languages with a trilled R include Bulgarian, Hungarian, Arabic, Finnish, Romanian, Indonesian, Russian , Italian, and most Swedish speakers. Some people might mock Asians, specifically Chinese, for not being able to pronounce the English word “broccoli” correctly- rather pronouncing it “browccoli”. This isn’t due to a rhotacism, however. It’s actually due to the fact that Mandarin (Chinese) words can have an “r” sound in the beginning of a word, but not in the middle or end of a word. This leads them to have issues in their phonotactics and creates an inability to pronounce the English “R” in the middle of words.

The leader of Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah, is a Lebanese leader and is mocked for his rhotacism when he says, “ Amwīka ” and “ Iswā’īl ” for the Arabic Amrīka (America), and Isrā’īl (Israel). He is a native Arabic speaker- a language which has the trilled R. Notice how he puts a W sound in those two words where the R sound usually is.

Symptoms of rhotacism

  • Some people try to hide their impediment by avoiding words with R ’s in them.
  • An overall inability to say R sounds
  • Using trilled R’s or guttural R’s (such as the French R) when trying to pronounce the regular English R.

Rhotacism as a speech impediment

Using a strict classification, only about 5%-10% of the human population speaks in a completely normal way. Everyone else suffers from some type of speech disorder or another. For children of any language, the R sounds are usually the hardest to master and often end up being the last ones a child learns. That’s why baby talk if you think about it, doesn’t really use explicit or strong R sounds. In English, rhotacism often comes off as a W sound which is why “Roger Rabbit” sounds like “Woger Wabbit”. R is often more difficult because a child has to learn the different combination of the /r/ sounds, not just the letter itself, unlike other letters. For example, when it comes before and after vowel sounds. The combination of a vowel with the /r/ sound is called a phenome and in English, there are eight combinations of these:

–        The prevocalic R , such as “rain”

–        The RL , such as “girl”

–        The IRE, such as “tire”

–        The AR, such as “car”

–        The EAR , “such as “beer”

–        The OR , such as “seashore”

–        The ER , such as “butter”

–        The AIR , such as “software”

A speech impediment is a speech disorder , not a language disorder . Speech disorders are problems in being able to produce the sounds of speech whereas language disorders are problems with understanding and/or being able to use words. Language disorders, unlike speech disorders, have nothing to do with speech production.

Often what happens is that the person speaking isn’t tensing their tongue enough, or not moving their tongue correctly (up and backward depending on the dialect) which makes the W or “uh” sound come out. It may also be that the person is moving their lips instead of their tongue.


Examples of rhotacism

  • Barry Kripke from the TV show The Big Bang Theory has both rhotacism and lambdacism- meaning he has issues pronouncing both his R ’s and his L ’s.
  • The most famous of rhotacism would be Elmer Fudd from Looney Tunes . He pronounces the word “rabbit” [ˈɹ̠ʷæbɪ̈t] as “wabbit” [ˈwæbɪ̈t]
  • In Monty Python’s Life of Brian , the 1979 film’s character Pilate suffers from rhotacism. In the film, people mock him for his inability to be understood easily.

Here’s a video with a woman who suffers from rhotacism. She explains how difficult it can be to have the speech impediment.

Causes of rhotacism

For many people, the causes of rhotacism are relatively unknown-, especially in adults. However, scientists theorize that the biggest cause is that the person grew up in an environment where they heard R ’s in a weird way, the shape of their mouths are different than normal, or their tongues and lips never learned how to produce the letter. In children, this could happen because the parents or adults around think the way the child talks (using baby talk) is cute and the child never actually learns how to produce it.

For one internet forum user, it has to do with how they learned the language , “I speak various languages, I pronounce the “R” normal in Dutch, French, and Spanish, but I have a rhotacism when speaking English. It’s the way I learnt it.”

For other people, speech issues are a secondary condition to an already existing, serious condition. Physically, it would be a cleft lip or a cleft palate. Neurologically, it could be a condition such as cerebral palsy. It may also be a tongue tie . Almost everyone has a stretch of skin that runs along the bottom of their tongue. If that skin is too tight and reaches the tip of the tongue, it can make pronouncing (and learning how to pronounce) R ’s and L ’s difficult. If the tongue tie isn’t fixed early on, it can be incredibly difficult to fix and learn how to pronounce later.

How the brain affects rhotacism

The brain affects rhotacism only for those who suffer from it not due to a physical impediment (such as a cleft palate). For some, this could happen because the brain doesn’t have the phonemic awareness and never actually learned what the letter R is supposed to sound like. This is common with kids whose parents spoke to them in “baby talk” and encouraged the child’s baby talk, too. This kind of behavior only strengthens a child’s inner concept that / R / is pronounced like “w” or “uh”.

Another reason could be that the brain connections simply don’t allow the lips or mouth to move in the way they need to in order to pronounce the R . This inability has little to do with physical incapabilities and more to do with mental ones. Some people with rhotacism have an issue with their oral-motor skills which means that there isn’t sufficient communication in the parts of the brain responsible for speech production.

Treatment for rhotacism

Is rhotacism curable.

It can have negative social effects- especially among younger children, such as bullying, which lowers self-esteem and can have a lasting effect. However, if the impediment is caught early enough on and is treated rather quickly, there is a good overall prognosis meaning it’s curable.

        However, some people never end up being able to properly pronounce that R and they end up substituting other sounds, such as the velar approximant (like w sounds) , the uvular approximant (also known as the “French R ”), and the uvular trill ( like the trilled R in Spanish).

How to fix rhotacism

Rhotacism is fixed by speech therapy . Before anything else, there needs to be an assessment from a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) who will help decide if the problem can be fixed. If a child is involved, the SLP would predict if the child can outgrow the problem or not. After the diagnosis, a speech therapist will work with the person who suffers from the speech impediment by possibly having weekly visits with some homework and practice instructions. Therapy happens in spouts- a period of a few weeks and a break. There is a follow-up to see if there has been an improvement in pronunciation. In the U.S., children who are in school and have a speech disorder are placed in a special education program. Most school districts provide these children with speech therapy during school hours.

Another option, often used alongside speech therapy, is using a speech therapy hand-held tool that helps isolate the sound being pronounced badly and gives an image of the proper tongue placement to enable better pronunciation.

One study tested a handheld tactical tool (known as Speech Buddies) and the traditional speech therapy methods. The study found that students who used the hand-held tool (alongside speech therapy) improved 33% faster than those who used only the traditional speech therapy methods.

Have you or someone you know ever struggled with rhotacism? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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Connected Speech Pathology

R Sound Speech Therapy: Tips to Make an R Sound

Are you or your child having trouble with the /r/ sound and wondering if you can change it or if you need speech therapy? Difficulty pronouncing the /r/ sound is very common because /r/ is one of the most challenging sounds in the English language to pronounce. This speech problem is known as a rhotacism .

In this article, we will discuss:

1) When is the Right Time to Fix the R Sound?

2) What is the Cause of a Rhotacism?

3) What Are Some Characteristics of a Rhotacism?

4) What is the Prognosis for Improvement?

5) How is a Rhotacism Diagnosed?

6) Why is the /R/ a Difficult Sound to Produce?

7) Examples of /R/ Words

8) How to Treat Problems with the /R/ Sound

9) Tips for Changing the /R/ Sound

10) Rhyming Game for Children

11) More Articulation Games to Help Children with /R/

12) Professional Help with a Speech-Language Pathologist

When is the Right Time to Fix the R Sound?

English has many sounds, but the most common is the “r” sound. This is one of the last sounds that children learn to say. While the age of mastery varies, the /r/ sound is typically learned by 6-7 years old. The /s/ sound is also one of the last sounds to be mastered. Difficulty pronouncing the /s/ sound is also known as a lisp .

It may be appropriate to start r words speech therapy earlier, around age six, if a parent or child considers the sound an issue that needs attention.

Some parents wait for the production of /r/ to correct itself over time rather than seeking speech therapy services for their child; however, help from a speech therapist is needed in many cases. By delaying speech therapy, children may have more challenges fixing the issue. It becomes increasingly difficult to modify the /r/ sound as a child approaches the teenage years .

Children who have trouble forming the /r/ sound may seem less mature than their classmates. If a child’s intelligibility is reduced, it can harm social and academic performance and have far-reaching impacts later in life.

Research shows that it is unlikely for a person who has trouble with the /r/ sound to learn how to produce the sound after high school without speech therapy.

What is the Cause of a Rhotacism?

The cause of a rhoticism is unknown. In some cases, it may be linked to tongue-tie (ankyloglossia). Tongue-tie may limit the range of tongue movements, which is critical for pronouncing /r/.

Another possible reason a person has trouble pronouncing the r sound is a speech sound disorder that affects the mouth and lip placement. Tongue placement for /r/ is very specific and can be complicated to learn.

No matter what the cause, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help.

What Are Some Characteristics of a Rhotacism?

Individuals who have difficulty with /r/ typically produce it as a syllabic or vowel-like sound. This makes the word hard to understand and can make other sounds difficult to hear. Some individuals have an issue with mispronunciation of r as l and sometimes r sounds like w.

Some hard r words that may be affected by a rhoticism are rice, right, ride, ring, red, rink, rip, and ranch.

What is the Prognosis for Improvement?

The prognosis is excellent if a person receives early speech therapy services and continues with therapy. If left untreated, children can experience unfavorable effects on their speech intelligibility throughout life.

The most common approach to speech therapy for a rhotacism is known as articulation therapy. In articulation therapy, speech therapists can work with a person to improve or correct speech sounds in a phonological system. This includes /r/.

If the person sounds like they are saying “wabbit” or “wunner” instead of “rabbit” and “runner”, it may be time to get help from a speech therapist. The best thing you can do to help is to find a speech therapist specializing in a rhotacism, especially if the sound has impacted their intelligibility.

It is essential to find the cause of a problem and do not focus only on “fixing” /r/. This will give you the best chance of success.

Do not delay r words speech therapy services because of embarrassment. It is much better for a person to be understood than going undiagnosed.

If other children at school tease your child for sounding different, you must teach your child coping skills and approach the teacher to explain what you are doing to improve your child's speech.

How is a Rhotacism Diagnosed?

speech impediment can't say r

Speech-language pathologists can perform a rhotacism assessment to determine if there is difficulty with the /r/ sound. For this evaluation, speech therapists will review your history and concerns, look at how you produce speech sounds in a word list and observe how you pronounce the /r/ sound in different word positions. The SLP will check the tongue placement for /r/ during your assessment.

Why is the /R/ a Difficult Sound to Produce?

There are 32 different variations of /r/ (also known as “allophones”). Each allophone is considered a separate and distinct sound. /R/ can occur in different places in a word (beginning, middle and end) and /r/ can be combined with other consonants (e.g. /tr/, /br/, /str/).

The consonant /r/ can occur by itself like “run,” and rhotic vowels such as “ar,” “air,” “eer,” “er,” “or,” “ire,” found in words like “star,” “fair,” “steer,” “feather,” “for,” or “fire.”

Each variation of /r/ can pose a unique challenge because it requires different tongue positions and movements. A person may struggle to pronounce all of these different variations of the /r/ sound or only have a problem with one variation of /r/. For all of these reasons, the /r/ sound is a very tricky sound to correct!

Examples of /R/ Words

speech impediment can't say r

PREVOCALIC R WORDS: Rope, Route, Rare, Role, Ramp, Road, Roof, Rent, Relax, Read, Rank, Record, Rate, Rain, Room, Ram

MEDIAL: Peering, Pairing, Teary, Terry, Cheery, Scary, Smeary, Fairy, Carry, Weary, Parry, Parry, Lorry, Pirate, Walrus, Barn, Giraffe Earring, Worm

FINAL: Pour, Sour, Your, Poor, Fair, Tear, Deer, Father, Feather, Mother, Monitor, Creator, Bar, Tar, Far, Pour, Liar, Weather, Brother, Sister

BR-Blends: Brim, Bring, Breed, Bread, Bring, Brief, Brown, Brain, Brake

CR-Blends: Crown, Crawl, Cream, Crop, Crate, Crib, Crab, Crash, Crown, Crow

DR-Blends: Dream, Drip, Drain, Drink, Drop, Drive, Draw, Drama

FR-Blends: Friend, Frame, Free, Frail, Fragile, France, Friday, Fried, Frog, Free, Fruit

GR-Blends: Group, Grown, Ground, Grape, Grain, Grit, Grip, Great

PR-Blends: Price, Proof, Prince, Prince, Pride, Princess, Preach, Practice, Prudent, Pray

TR-Blends: Tree, Track, Trip, Truth, Trolley, Train, Troop, Trap

How to Treat Problems with the /R/ Sound

speech impediment can't say r

The speech therapy plan will depend on age and individual circumstances, but it can include:

A thorough assessment to determine why the individual may have difficulty producing /r/ and the other sounds or syllable patterns that may be an issue. During the evaluation, the speech pathologist will identify the exact nature of the problem with the /r/ production.

/R/ Therapy may involve any of the following strategies:

Awareness : Teaching a general understanding of the articulators (i.e., tongue, lips, teeth, and the hard and soft palate). Flavored tongue depressors or small lollipops may be used to bring attention to the areas that need to be used.

Visual Cues : Visual cues can be a helpful tool in learning where the tongue should be placed to improve /r/ production. A mirror or a tongue model may be used.

Coordination and Strengthening Exercises : If there is jaw instability, some exercises may be introduced to coordinate and strengthen jaw and tongue movements. The SLP may also work on tongue placement for r with tongue exercises for speech articulation.

Drill : Once you are successful with /r/ production in a certain context, your speech therapist would increase the complexity by teaching the /r/ in other contexts and positions.

Tips for Changing the /R/ Sound

Let’s discuss how to modify the /r/ sound. First, identify some words that contain the /r/ sound that you or your child can produce correctly. Use these R words as a warm-up for your practice session.

You need to repeat the same sound accurately to learn to produce it consistently. This approach is key in helping to produce the sound correctly. You only want to work on one type of /r/ at a time. For example, you would want to master “ar” words like “star” or “far” before moving onto “ir” words like “fire” or “tire.”

If you think your /r/ sounds more like /w/, look in a mirror to use visual cues and carefully observe the lips, teeth, and jaw to see if you are using a rounded lip shape. Make sure that your lips are apart and your top and bottom teeth are lightly together when you practice and avoid the rounded lip shape if possible.

The tongue movement should be with the tongue flattened out in the back of the mouth and toward the upper part of the mouth, known as the hard palate. The sides of the tongue may scrape on the inside of the top teeth when you make an /r/ sound. Some people produce the /r/ sound with the tongue tip down. These visual cues can be highly beneficial.

When /r/ sounds like “uh, ” then it is likely that the back of the tongue position is not stabilized between the back molars. Sometimes saying /k/ or /g/, holding the sounds out for a few seconds, and then sliding into /r/ can help with placing the tongue in the right spot for /r/. /K/ and /g/ sounds are made in the back of the mouth, which helps get the tongue closer to the correct position to make a good /r/. Practice saying aloud words like “green,” “creep,” “greedy,” and “creek” while using these techniques.

Sometimes connecting /r/ with the vowel sound “eee” can have a similar effect because it helps raise the back portion of the tongue. Say the vowel “eee,” hold it for a few seconds and then combine it into an /r/ sound. You can repeat this exercise with another vowel sound.

It may help to listen to someone produce the words accurately to help provide you with verbal cues as well as a visual cue to start practicing.

Rhyming Game for Children

speech impediment can't say r

Put numbered index cards face down on a table, and let your child draw one. Ask them to say the word and then find another word that rhymes with it from the other cards on the table. If you have only one card, ask your child to think of any words that rhyme. This can be a fun way to practice wordplay in a game setting.

If you have more than one card, say any words that rhyme with the original word, and then see if your child can think of another word that rhymes with all of them before he draws his next card. For example, if someone drew the card with the word “hat,” you can say words like “cat” and then see if your child can think of another word that rhymes with both of those.

This game also works well in an individual setting where the parent asks questions that stimulate thinking and practicing rhyming skills (e.g., “What words rhyme with dog?”).

You can also play by asking your child to think of any word that rhymes with the original word. For example, if someone drew the card with the word “hat,” you could say things like “mat” and then see if your child can think of another word that rhymes with both of those.

The focus is on tea the /r/ sound, but the game also works from an auditory processing perspective and helps with listening skills. If you are playing this game in a group setting, you can give out a prize for the most words that rhyme.

If your child tends to be impulsive, it can help to make a set of rules (e.g., you want to say as many words that rhyme with the original word as possible; you can take one card at a time; etc.) so that people don’t start saying every word they hear and lose their focus on practicing the /r/ sound.

If you have a few people who come to your house or visit another person, this game can be played with picture cards. Ensure that you have enough index cards on hand if someone draws the jackpot card (e.g., star, far car). You may also want to provide a small piece of paper and a writing utensil for each person to write down their words.

Although this game can be played with children or adults, it works best when you can sit next to the person who is drawing so that you can help them if they need assistance sounding out the words.

If the words are not easy to sound out, you can also prompt your child with hints. This game works best when at least one or two people sitting across from each other are good spellers and have excellent auditory memory skills.

This game can be used as a warm-up activity before doing articulation therapy or speech therapy activities. It is also good for general practice or group activity, but it can take longer to play because more cards are involved.

You can make this game more interesting by turning off the lights and playing in the dark. This makes it more challenging and forces people involved to use their ears to listen for words.

This game can be played in an individual setting as well. In this case, you could use the magnetic letters to make a set of cards for each word. The idea would then be to practice spelling out words that rhyme with the original word.

If you are playing this game in a group activity and have some children who are good at spelling, you can also make this game more interesting by letting them use their magnetic letters to sound out words that rhyme with the original word.

Depending on your child's age, this game can be modified to make it more challenging (e.g., you want to get rid of all the cards in your hand; you have to state a word that rhymes with the original word every time; etc.).

Although this game is designed for children and adults, it can also be played with preschoolers. In this case, you could draw pictures of the words you are working on and put them in an envelope with your child. Then, let them pull out cards while practicing saying things that rhyme with the original word (e.g., star–far; car–tar; bar–jar; etc.).

More Articulation Games to Help Children with /R/

Here are a few games that you can do with your child to help practice the /r/ sound:

Rhyming Words: Rhyming words is an old game that works well for practicing the /r/ sound. Here are some examples: bar, car; star, jar; and rat, tar. You can use these words to help your child practice the /r/ sound in sentences, too.

(R)eally and (R)right: Using the words “really” and “right” in practice sessions is also a good practice for developing the /r/ sound. You can model the appropriate use of the /r/ sound or have the child use these words throughout the day.

Rhyming Poems: Repeat poems that rhyme (like “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary”) to help your child learn how to pronounce /r/ in fun rhymes correctly. You can make up your own versions, too.

Blends Game: Use written materials such as flashcards to practice blending and segmenting syllables in this game. Prepare a set of picture cards or word cards that contain blends with the /r/ sound. Choose words appropriate for the individual's level of speech development and the specific blends targeted. Engage the individual in exploring different words that contain /r/ blends. Encourage them to identify the blend within each word, emphasizing correct pronunciation. Use a variety of word cards to provide a range of blends for practice. Examples of words include “tree,” “green,” “brush,” and “drum.”

For example, say cat and rat and have your child repeat them back one at a time. Then say cat rat together and have your child repeat them back to you. You can do the same thing with far, jar, tar, star, and so on.

Books with R sounds: Look for picture books that have lots of r’s in them. For example, there are tons of Dr. Seuss books with a lot of r’s and other books that share the same characteristics (i.e., rhyming words, simple sentences, large font size).

Professional Help with a Speech-Language Pathologist

R Sound Therapy

Changing the way you produce an /r/ requires consistent practice over time and a lot of patience. If you don’t see improvement in the /r/ sound while working on your own, you may need speech therapy.

Connected Speech Pathology has a team of specialized speech therapists who can help both adults and children produce the /r/ sound correctly through online speech therapy.

We'll choose a speech-language pathologist from our team that is exceptionally educated in articulation difficulties. A speech therapist will then complete an extensive articulation evaluation.

Goals will be highly personalized, allowing for greater real-life communication.

Once you've discovered the problem, it's simply a matter of practice. Speech-language pathologists utilize a variety of approaches to improve articulation skills and establish good habits.

Attending weekly speech therapy and daily /R/ sound practice outside of the meetings is a key component of progress. We would be happy to help you or your child achieve your communication goals!


About the Author

Allison Geller is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and the owner of Connected Speech Pathology. She obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Florida in Speech-Language Pathology. Allison has practiced speech therapy in a number of settings including telepractice, acute care, outpatient rehabilitation, and private practice. She has worked extensively with individuals across the lifespan including toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, and adults. She specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of communication disorders including receptive/expressive language disorders, articulation disorders, voice disorders, fluency disorders, brain injury, and swallowing disorders.

Allison served as the clinical coordinator of research in aphasia in the Neurological Institute at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. She is on the Board of Directors for the Corporate Speech Pathology Network (CORSPAN), a Lee Silverman Voice Treatment ( LSVT ) certified clinician, and a proud Family Empowerment Scholarship/Step-Up For Students provider. Allison is passionate about delivering high quality-effective treatment remotely because it’s convenient and easy to access. What sets us apart from other online speech therapy options is—Allison takes great care to hire the very best SLPs from all over the country.

Do you have questions or want to learn more about our program? Set up a free phone consultation with our lead speech pathologist.

speech impediment can't say r

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Tackling Trouble With R: Exercises to Practice “R” Pronunciation With Your Child

speech impediment can't say r

One of the reasons /r/ is so hard to teach is because the child is unable to see what their tongue looks like or where it is inside the mouth. In addition, the way in which the tongue is positioned in the mouth for an accurate production of /r/ varies from person-to-person.

How the “R” sound is formed:

  • The front part of the tongue may be “retroflexed”, which means that the tongue tip is pointing slightly up and back, behind the teeth.
  • The tongue may be “bunched”, which means that the middle of the tongue is bunched in the middle area of the mouth. The sides of the tongue must press against the back teeth or molars for both the “bunched”and “retroflexed” tongue positions.

The /r/ phoneme is even more complicated because the pronunciation depends on where the sound falls in a word. The /r/ can be prevocalic (comes before a vowel, “rabbit”), intervocalic (between two vowels, “cherry”) or postvocalic (after a vowel, “butter”). The prevocalic /r/ is the only case where /r/ is considered a consonant. The other /r/ sounds are known as “r-colored vowels”.

Elicitation techniques for /r/:

Using hand gestures – Hold one hand horizontally to symbolize the tongue, and hold the other hand underneath. Using the hand on top, show the tongue movement necessary to produce /r/. By cupping the hand, you’re showing the tongue tip is up and slightly back.

Shaping /r/ from /l/ – Tell your child to make an /l/ sound. From there, they should slide their tongue along the top of their mouth (hard palate), and this will inevitably turn into the retroflexed tongue position.

Shaping /r/ from /oo / – Have the child say “oo” as in the word “look.” While saying the “oo” sound, tell the child to move his tongue back and up slowly – Using your hand to show this movement can be helpful!

Shaping /r/ from /z/ – Have the child prolong the “z” sound. Then tell the child to move his/her tongue back slowly while opening the jaw slightly. Remind the child to keep the back sides of the tongue up against the upper teeth.

Using animal sounds (Always model these sounds for the child first.)

  • Rooster crowing in the morning, “rrr rrr rrr rrrrrrrrrr”
  • Cat purring, “purrrrrr”
  • Tiger growl, “grrrrrrr”

Using a silent /k/ – Have the child open their mouth and make a silent /k/. Then have him attempt the growling sound.

Changing jaw position with /l/ – Have the child produce the /l/ sound, and while saying this sound, pull the lower jaw down slowly until he reaches the correct position for /r/ –  An adult can pull the jaw down gently if the child is having a difficult time lowering it down slowly.

Eliminating the /w/ – If the child is using a /w/ sound for /r/- Tell the child to smile – you can’t make a /w/ sound when you smile!

Other ways to help:

  • Be a good model – Restate what your child said and say the /r/ correctly.
  • Work on discrimination – Say an /r/ word correctly or incorrectly and see if your child can recognize the difference between a “good” /r/ sound and a “could be better” /r/ sound.
  • Talk to a certified speech language pathologist (SLP)

When to consult a speech language pathologist:

The age range for mastery of the /r/ sound is quite large. Many children master the sound by age five and a half, while others don’t produce it correctly until age 7. A general rule of thumb is that if they aren’t pronouncing it correctly by the first grade, seek advice from a licensed speech language pathologist .

NSPT offers services in  Bucktown ,  Evanston ,  Deerfield ,  Lincolnwood ,  Glenview ,  Lake Bluff ,  Des Plaines ,  Hinsdale  and  Mequon ! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!


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Teaching the R Sound in Speech Therapy

Teaching the R sound in speech therapy can be stressful for a speech therapist. Children with speech sound disorders may have difficulty with saying r words. In this blog post, I’m sharing a simple, 5-step strategy SLPs can use to teach the r sound successfully and without frustration. Many students with articulation disorders have difficulty producing the R sound. Older students who have been in speech therapy for years may be feeling frustrated. Luckily, there are many elicitation techniques that can be successfully used to treat R sound errors in speech therapy! Speech pathologists interested in teaching the R sound should make sure to bookmark this post for future reference. Trying different things can really change this game when treating this tricky sound!

how to teach the r sound speech therapy

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Different Types of R

When Speech Pathologists are working on the “R” sound, specific errors need to be identified. There are many different positions of a word that R can occur in. R can occur in the initial position, medial position, and final positions of words. R can be influenced by vowels, and are known as “vocalic R” sounds (examples: art, orange, car). It can also occur in blends (r blend examples include princess, friend, and grape). It is helpful to figure out specifically which R the student can and cannot say. Christine Ristuccia has developed a very helpful screening form, The Entire World of R. This is a great way to gather baseline information.

Common R Sound Errors

Many students with articulation disorders have a hard time producing a correct R sound. R sound errors can occur for initial r, medial r, and final r sounds. These sound errors can occur in isolation, at the word level, in phrases, at the sentence level, and in conversation. It isn’t uncommon that R and vocalic R sounds are the last sounds left to target in speech therapy.

Perhaps that’s why the R sound has the bad reputation of being a “pesky sound”.

  • Oftentimes in younger children, the w sound is substituted for the R sound. An example might be “wabbit” for “rabbit”. Minimal pairs might be useful in this situation.
  • Occasionally, students might substitute l for r (for example, “light” for “right”).
  • R might also be substituted by a “y” sound (an example would be “ram” vs “yam”).
  • Other R speech sounds might lose their “R” quality and sound more like a vowel sound. “ER” might be placed by a neutral schwa, for example.

A licensed speech-language pathologist can listen carefully to distinguish which r sound errors a student might be making.

References: Bauman-Waengler, J.A.  Articulatory and Phonological Impairments: A Clinical Focus . Third ed., Pearson Education Limited, 2013. 

Additionally, students may have difficulty with r blends. For example, in the word “frog”, a w might be substituted for an r (fwog).

Proper Tongue Placement

There are different ways to produce R . This is why it is helpful to establish what type of R sound a student will be most successful with during articulation therapy.

When teaching tongue position, it is helpful to use a visual cue paired with a tactile cue.

The retracted r is also called the bunched r. The tip of the tongue is retracted and the tongue is “bunched” and “lifted” toward the pharynx. In simplified language, it is “bunched up” and “pulled back”.

A retroflex R involves the tip of the tongue being raised to the roof of the mouth, specifically to the alveolar region. The rest of the tongue is essentially flattened.

bunched r vs retroflex r

Research, Videos, and CEU Courses

A speech language pathologist often reviews research-based articles and takes continuing education. Here are some recommended articles, videos, and CEU courses:

  • R Techniques and Intervention to Correct R- Seven Steps, From Basics to Habituation – a CEU course by Sandra Holtzman, M.S., CCC-SLP, COM, QOM
  • Successful R Therapy – a CEU course by Pam Marshalla
  • How To Treat R – this is a youtube video I created to share my favorite tips and tricks!

Recommended R Materials for SLPs

There are some materials I like to have on hand when teaching the R sound. Here is a short list:

  • Tongue depressor : a tongue depressor is a wonderful way to assist with tongue placement and positioning.
  • A mirror : the use of a mirror allows my students to make sure they are not moving their jaw too much while producing the R sound.
  • Comprehensive R Program

Some SLPs have found success using speech buddies . These include placement guides for producing sounds like R and S.

5 Simple Steps for Teaching the R Sound in Speech Therapy

Teaching the R sound in  speech therapy  doesn’t need to be so frustrating! Following this 5-step strategic process, which utilizes the foundational skills of orofacial myology, has been an absolute game-changer for me. I know it will be for you, too.

I always explain to my students the importance of being able to move the tongue without moving the jaw (or lips). These are orofacial myology basics. We need precise, controlled motor movements of the articulators. One thing I have noticed time and time again with my R students is the lateral shifting of the jaw when they try to say “er” in isolation. Others tend to jut the chin forward. Use a mirror and bite blocks to draw awareness to this. With a bite block or stacked tongue depressors , we work on tasks such as moving the tongue tip from one corner of the lips to the other, while focusing on only moving the tongue.

The first place I start is establishing the “er” sound in isolation . This is based off of  Sandra’s Holtzman’s R: Techniques and Interventions  ceu course, which was a game-changer for me. If you’re looking to take an amazing CEU course for treating R, look no further. You can establish “er” using either a  bunched r or a retroflexed r  tongue shape. How To Teach Bunched R (Retracted R): For a bunched R,  I like to use my arms to explain the spread and lift of the tongue . When my student says “uh” instead of “er”, I say, “Try that again. You dropped the sides of the tongue.” I hold my arms out in front of me (hands clasped together), and visually show them “raised sides” vs “flat sides” using my elbows. You can also use a tongue depressor to facilitate tongue movement and gently lift the tongue up and back. It may take a few tries, but this can also help elicit the correct production of er. Finally, I will also use my hand as a reminder to lift and pull the back of the tongue for the bunched R. How to Teach The Retroflex R I like to use my hand as a visual cue to teach the retroflex R, with the palm flat and upward, and the tips of my fingers pointing up. An older approach you might try is starting from the L sound, then having the student trace the tongue back along the roof of their mouth. This can assist with sound production for ER.

After your student can successfully say ER in isolation, you can move on to the next step! This involves practicing the “er” sound in lots of sounds and blend combinations (in both real and nonsense words). This step ensures that your student understands how to control, shape, and place the tongue, in a variety of contexts . For example, you would pair “er” with bilabial sounds (erber) in nonsense word combinations. Later, you would cycle back and practice bilabials again in the final position of words (Decem…ber).

You can use a strong foundation in “ER” to shape the other vocalic r sounds when working on R in speech therapy. You will slowly blend “er” into the other vowels or sounds, then try it again at a faster pace. For example, to say “RL” as in “girl”, we say “ER + L” (errrrrr…..L). To say “AR” as in art, we say “AH + ER”. ER is the foundation for all other R sounds.

And finally, to elicit the initial R, we can use our “ER” sound (“ERrrrrain…. rain). If you would like a great resource with ready-to-go worksheets and words that utilize this approach for treating R in your speech therapy sessions, be sure to check out my  Correct that R  resource on TpT.

Other things to consider when treating R in speech therapy

There are some other considerations to keep in mind when working on R.

Some of your students may have been in speech therapy for a long time. Trying a fresh new approach might be just what your student needs to see success. This R program incorporates foundational orofacial myology techniques and has allowed me to be highly successful with correcting R sound errors in speech therapy.

A speech pathologist can try wording things differently to describe how the parts of the tongue move and position while producing the target sound.

Also, remember that patience is key . When working on R in speech, I have spent up to two months trying to get “ER” in isolation. It takes focus and a lot of hard work!

Remind your students that their tongue is a muscle . That means they can control it, shape it, and move it.

Try using auditory discrimination. Read R word lists that target a specific sound to your R kids! It can help a little bit to learn to not only say the difference but also to hear the difference.

Some students need to consider lip placement . Sometimes retracting the lips (smiling!) while saying R can help eliminate W in the initial position of words (i.e. “wabbit” for “rabbit”).

Go-To Resources to Teach the R Sound in Speech Therapy

Need a go-to resource that will help you teach the R sound?

Although R can make SLPs feel frustrated to teach, there is good news. Hundreds of speech-language pathologists have trusted this R program, which is based on research, and have seen huge results. It involves a systematic, comprehensive approach that ensures success. It provides several visual supports, and ready-to-go worksheets and activities.

r activity for speech therapy

Jessica G, SLP, said, “I’m so grateful for this resource !!!! Targeting “r” was like my worst nightmare and when students weren’t making progress I felt so discouraged and did not know what else I could do to improve accuracy. Thanks to Karen and this amazing resource, I actually get excited to treat “r” now. The approach used actually works and my students finally seem to understand tongue positioning better (and maybe I do too!). This is definitely worth buying! Thank you!”

Watch this youtube video to learn even more about how to use this resource and approach to treating R.

In summary, it is very possible to successfully teach the R sound in speech therapy! You- and your student- can have great success with this sound! SLPs can teach either the bunched R or retroflex R in therapy. Starting with vocalic ER in isolation is useful before attempting to try to teach other vocalic R sounds.

  • My go-to resource for teaching the R sound
  • Try a new way of treat R- check out my favorite CEU course
  • Here are my favorite tools for helping to teach the R sound: tongue depressors and a mirror

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speech impediment can't say r

speech impediment can't say r

Help for the speech impediment R: Sound: When Should Parents Get More Help?

Help for the “r: sound: when should parents get more help.

Is your child saying Wabbit instead of Rabbit or Maw instead of More ? If your child’s language contains these and other mispronunciations of the R sound or a “speech impediment r” issue, we are sure that you have experienced some difficulty in trying to correct it.

The R sound is one the most common sounds in English! Surprising!  And it is also one of the final sounds that you children master, frequently not maturing until they are 6 or 7 years old.

Often, one of the reasons a speech impediment R issue continues in a child’s speech is because of this. Because the sound develops later, one typical misunderstanding is to do nothing: Parents often think: “It will just take care of itself.” In many circumstances, it may resolve on its own, but sometimes kids and parents need some extra help.

If a child does not get help in a timely manner, incorrect R pronunciation might have a cascading effect. Children may become more self-conscious of their speech, their spelling may be harmed (see all the second grade spelling lists with r-controlled vowels? ), and they may be more vulnerable to teasing.

There is a scientific and medical term for the phenomenon of mispronunciation of the R sound. It is called Rhotacism , which refers to the inability or difficulty in pronouncing the /r/ sound.

So how should parents know when it’s time to get the help of a speech therapist? In general, you can review these questions to help guide your decision about getting help for a speech impediment R issue:

  • Is your child frustrated when they try to communicate?
  • Is their speech hard to understand?
  • Is your child being teased?
  • Is your child older than the suggested age at which articulation problems should start to fade? (The /r/ sound should be mastered by the age of seven)

According to studies, 7.5 percent of school-aged kids have articulation problems , with the R sound proving particularly challenging. Because this sound occurs before and after vowel sounds, children would need to learn various combinations of the R sound rather than just the sound alone. The vowel that is next to an R has an impact on how sounds and how it is produced.

Here are some examples:

  • AR as in far
  • AIR as in hair
  • EAR as in deer
  • ER as in mother
  • IRE as in fire
  • OR as in more
  • RL as in curl
  • Prevocalic R as in race

What Should Parents Do for Speech Impediment R Issues?

The initial step should be an articulation evaluation by a professional speech-language pathologist (SLP). You should anticipate a speech therapist to work with you on therapy alternatives once you’ve been diagnosed. Weekly visits with homework and practice directions may be one of these choices.

An SLP will Use Visual Cues:

Giving your child visual cues might also help them learn how to pronounce the /r/ sound correctly. They’ll have to adjust the way they move their mouth to pronounce this sound. This is obviously easier said than done.

Using your arm to demonstrate proper tongue movement is one approach that a therapist can show you how to teach your child: Extend your arm in front of you, then bring it up and in toward your body. Explain to your child that they should make the same action with their tongue when trying to pronounce the /r/ sound.

R Therapy Should Be Fun!

You’ll need to find ways to make these speech therapy activities interesting for your child if you want them to continue with them long enough to see benefits.

Fortunately, learning the R sound is a lot of fun. You can practice getting rid of a speech impediment R issue by:

  • Have your child act as if they are an animal. They can practice growling like a bear or roaring like a lion in a fun and enjoyable method to improve their /r/ noises.
  • You can even have kids dress up like pirates and practice their “argh” sound while wearing an eye patch.

The general prognosis is very favorable with early intervention and treatment in the early years for a speech impediment r issue. If parents see that the sound is not produced correctly by around age 6 or 7, it may be time to get help from a speech therapist.

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A Parent's Guide to R Sound Speech Therapy and How It Can Help Your Child

A mom and her toddler daughter doing an activity together

If your child has difficulty with the r-sound, they may need some help to learn how to pronounce it. This article covers the basics of R sound speech therapy and how it can help your child learn to speak more accurately.

It isn't too concerning if your child can't pronounce R as a preschooler. Rs are the most difficult letter to pronounce, and often kids won't fully develop the ability until the age of seven. However, if you are finding your attempts to teach your child to pronounce their Rs properly is causing conflict, it could interfere with family dynamics and your child's confidence.

The inability to pronounce Rs is a speech impediment called rhoticism. It is so common there is speech therapy specifically designed to help children pronounce their Rs. This is a complete guide to R speech therapy and how it can help your child learn to make the R sound stress-free.

Master 'R' Sounds with Ease!

What is Rhoticism?

Rhoticism is the most common speech disorder children experience. Inability to pronounce the R sound usually leads to a child pronouncing their Rs as Ws. This is because there are more variations of the letter R pronouncement than any other letter. Adding to the difficulty, it isn't easy to show a child how to position their mouth and tongue to make the sound correctly. For example, when showing a child to make the letter B, they can see the movement of your lips, making it easier for them to mimic you and make the sound.

When Should a Child Be Able to Say Their R's?

Illustration of the different stages of a child

R is usually the last letter children learn to make. In most cases, a child begins to say forms of their Rs by about two and a half and has it perfected by the age of six. For some, however, development might not be perfected until as late as age seven . In most cases, rhoticism isn't addressed until a child approaches age seven or eight, but R sound speech therapy and coaching can start sooner.

Why Are There So Many Variations of R?

The R sound occurs most frequently when speaking English. It is challenging to master because it has so many variations in pronunciation. Where the R occurs in the word influences how the R should sound. Variations include:

  • R as in run
  • RL as in pearl
  • IRE as in fire
  • AR as in far
  • EAR as in dear
  • OR as in door
  • ER as in sister
  • AIR as in dare

With so many variations, you can see why it might be more challenging for a child to learn to master each sound with the rest of their letters.

How Can I Help My Child Say Rs?

Parents can also learn to assist their child with some fun exercises such as:

Illustration of the letter R connecting to vowels with a green arrow

Connect Rs to Vowels

Many children find it easier to say their Rs with a vowel. R blends speech therapy such as making your way through the vowels, making it easier to understand how to pronounce R in different variations. First, pronouncing the vowel, either long or short, holding the sound, and then adding an R at the end helps your child hear how the letters sound together. For long A, you would begin with them saying aaaaaa and then adding the R to say aaaaaarrrrrr as in air. Then for the short, they would start saying ahhhhhhh and then add the R to say ahhhhrrrrr as in car.

Illustration of a red tongue

Tongue Movement

As mentioned, one of the challenges with R's is the difficulty providing visual cues to show them how to pronounce the letter. Since you can't show them your tongue, you can try using your arm to show them by extending your arm out to the front and then pulling it up towards your body as you pronounce the R.

Illustration of a lion with a blue mane

R Sound Activities

Always approach the exercises as something fun you can do together, so your child isn't self-conscious or nervous. For example, Rs are very much like growls. Have your child act out being certain animals like a cranky dog growling or a mighty lion roaring. Have them roll the R out as they mimic each animal. Pirates also make an R sound when they say "argh." You can dress up as pirates to practice the sounds. You can also watch their favorite cartoon and whenever a character makes an R sound have them shout it out or repeat it.

Illustration of a smiling face that resembles the sun

Use Rs Every Day

Find opportunities to pronounce Rs with your child, whether pointing out foods in the grocery store with Rs, items in a park, or even when your child hears you say an R.

Practicing R words speech therapy at home can be very helpful, but success is more likely with the help of a speech therapist.

What Causes Rhoticism?

Speech disorders like rhoticism are related to difficulty making sounds when speaking. In the case of rhoticism, it is related to not tensing their tongue enough or failing to move it correctly. Trying to master the up and backward movement when pronouncing R's can be tricky, which is why children often start by making a W sound instead. The child sees most letters pronounced with the lips, while Rs are pronounced with the tongue.

How Does R Speech Therapy Help?

R sound speech therapy can make a world of difference for your child. Your child's therapist provides a safe learning environment where they won't feel judged or pressured. Speech therapists take time to build a rapport with their patients to feel more comfortable during the process. Parents can often inadvertently cause a child to feel they are under attack or doing something wrong. Speech therapists alleviate that family stress providing neutral ground where a child can feel less vulnerable. Their goal is to assist your child in learning how to move their tongue to achieve the correct positions to pronounce their Rs correctly.

A list of r words to help with Rhoticism

Each child is treated as an individual with an assessment to understand their challenges and then use different methods to find the approach that they respond to best. Therapists make articulation therapy fun using games and activities that children respond to well. Your child will improve over time, enjoying small successes each session until the Rs roll naturally off their tongue. Through practice, they learn how to make R sounds, add Rs to syllables, then words, phrases, and complete sentences with confidence !

We invite you to learn more about how Articulation Speech Therapy at Nobles Speech Therapy can help your child pronounce the R sound better and overcome other speech difficulties.

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28 Nov Will My Child Ever Learn to Say the “R” Sound?

Will my child ever learn to say the “r” sound.

“Will my child ever learn to make the “r” sound?” This is a question I hear from many parent(s) of children with CAS, likely reflecting very real parental concerns about how their child’s speech will sound as they enter the teen years, or even young adulthood.

The question is a logical one. The answer is a difficult one. As a speech-language pathologist I must consider a number of factors when discussing the “r” issue with parents. These include the over-all severity of the CAS, the number of characteristics of the disorder the child exhibits, the changes that have occurred within the speech skills over time, and the rate and ease with which these changes have occurred. Additional factors include the availability of appropriate services (particularly as the child enters middle school and beyond), the motivation of the child to cooperatively continue in the remedial process, and perhaps even the number and severity of the co-occurring problems that the child may be exhibiting in addition to the CAS.

We also need to remember that the “r” is a sound with many facets. Many of us use both a consonant “r” as well as more vowel-like “er” sounds in our particular versions of spoken American English. However, we need to recognize that there are also regional and dialectical variations of the “r” and its use. Children with CAS will need to strive for production of the “r” sounds that are consistent with those of their families and /or geographic home.

While I am approaching the “r” issue cautiously, it has been my clinical experience that many children with CAS do, in fact, develop the “r” sound or sounds. This is based on two types of evidence. The first of these are the clinical observations that I have made, and the anecdotal reports that have been shared with me by other clinicians of “older” children with CAS—pre-teens and early teens—that the “r” sounds are acquired, but always with remedial help.

The second type of evidence is a research base that would support the possibility of “r” acquisition in this population of children. It is largely based on an M.A. thesis project, and later an ASHA paper, completed by Melissa Jackson under my direction nearly 20 years ago. The purpose of the study was to look longitudinally at the speech sound characteristics of four children with CAS, as recorded during formal assessments at our university clinic. One child was a pre-schooler. However, the other three children were older and are of more interest regarding the “r” issue. For one child we had 5 years of data from ages 6 through 10.5 years, another for 6 years through ages 4 to 10 years, and the final child (exhibiting a very severe speech apraxia) was followed for 8 evaluations from age 4 through 10.5 years. Among the questions asked in the project was if the patterns of speech for the children with speech apraxia changed with increases in age and remediation, and how these patterns of sound acquisition compared with those of children with normally developing speech. The results found that the children with CAS did acquire the speech sounds of their language, and in an order similar to children acquiring them normally. This included the “r” sounds. However for the children with CAS the sounds were acquired at a slower rate and at older ages, than do children with normally developing speech skills. In fact, one child correctly produced the “r” sounds at the age of 9; the other two were inconsistently correct in their productions of the “r” sounds at age 10 years, but they could correctly produce them. Most importantly, however, is that these skills were acquired while the children were receiving fairly intensive remedial services, emphasizing the need for continued therapy. In fact, the three children discussed above all continued to receive speech and language services well beyond the oldest ages noted in the study.

It must be remembered that even with remedial services targeting the “r” sounds, progress in correct production is likely to be slow. There are several stages within the therapy process. The first is to achieve, or elicit, the sound itself, whether it is the “r”, or the “sh”, or perhaps the “g”. There are many techniques that a speech-language pathologist can use to facilitate the child’s learning of what needs to be done with the speech-producing mechanism in order to correctly produce the sound all by itself. Often, sensory input will help, so that the child is given auditory, visual, gestural, or tactile cues to help learn what to do to create the sound. There are a number of specific treatment techniques which use various sensory modalities in this phase of remediation. Because of the individuality of each child with CAS there is often no way to determine which specific sensory modality, or modalities, will be most helpful in achieving success in this phase of therapy. Many different ones may need to be introduced to the child. After the child can produce the sound by itself or in simple syllables with the target sound (in this case the “r”) plus a vowel, a second stage of therapy may well incorporate motor-programming therapy approaches. The goal for the targeted sound in this stage is for the child with CAS to acquire voluntary, consistent, and correct control over the speech-producing mechanism so that the speech sound, and sound sequences in which it occurs, can be produced consistently correctly. In order for this to occur, there must be many, many repetitions of speech tasks which are carefully ordered to include gradual increases in the difficulty and length of the speech tasks. Children with CAS often find this process to be an arduous one, requiring much practice and investing much effort over a prolonged period of time—which may reach into a number of years of therapy.

The message is one of optimism. There seems to be a distinct probability that the “r” sounds will be acquired by children with CAS. However, CAS is known for its individuality as far as how the disorder is expressed by any individual child. A particular child with CAS may not acquire the sound, despite good efforts in therapy, just as some children with seemingly normally developing speech skills may find the “r” sounds to be a particularly difficult challenge. But, we all must be patient; the child with CAS may be 10, or 12, or 14 years of age before the “r” sounds make their appearance. And most importantly of all, the child needs to receive speech remedial services, and to cooperatively invest in this process, in order to facilitate this acquisition.


Jackson, M.R.F. (1986) Phonological characteristics of developmental verbal apraxia: A longitudinal study. M.A. thesis completed at The University of Iowa. Jackson, M.R.F. & Hall, P.K. (1987). A longitudinal study of articulation characteristics in developmental apraxia of speech. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, New Orleans, LA.

[Penelope K. Hall is an associate professor in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at the University of Iowa. She has long-term clinical and research interests in Childhood Apraxia of Speech, having recently completed the second edition of the Hall, Jordan & Robin text, Developmental Apraxia of Speech: Theory and Clinical Practice. She also serves on the Apraxia Kids Advisory Board.]

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Related Articles

Correcting the R Sound: A Primer for Parents

Correcting the R Sound: A Primer for Parents

Does your child say Wabbit for Rabbit or Maw for More? If these and other mispronunciations of the R sound occur in your child’s language, then I’m sure you’ve encountered a few frustrations in trying to correct it.

Did you know that the R sound is one of the most commonly used sounds in English? No wonder that pesky sound (or lack of it) keeps getting messed up in children’s speech. The R sound is typically one of the last sounds to be mastered by children, often not maturing until ages 6 or 7. That’s just one of the reasons it has the persistency to remain incorrect in a child’s speech. Since the sound is later-developing, one of the common misconceptions is to do nothing: “Oh, just wait. It will correct itself.” In many cases it will correct but, in almost as many times, correction of the sound needs a little help.

Not pronouncing correct R’s can have a ripple effect if not addressed in a timely manner. Children may become more self-conscious of their speech, spelling may be affected adversely (Notice all the second grade spelling lists with r-controlled vowels?), and they may be open to teasing, resulting in a withdrawal from participation in discussions and activities. Improper and unintelligible speech can lead to far reaching economic impacts much later in life.

So what’s a parent to do?

A complete evaluation by a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) should be the first step. There are a wide range of issues affecting speech receptivity and production: Too many to even name in this article. Often, a little unintelligibility in speech is straightforward and easily treatable. However, there are many cases where multiple issues or disorders may be compounding or masking multiple issues. For the sake of saving time and frustration, a professional evaluation is well worth the investment!

Your child’s age and intelligibility are key determinants in deciding the course of treatment in most instances. If a child above three is only intelligible to family members, then that is an alarm indicating issues that should be addressed. If a kindergartener has some mispronunciations with some of the R sounds, but is generally intelligible to strangers, then that’s probably normal. A little phonetically consistent practice with R words at home will probably help. A second grader, however, should have mastered the R sound. If not, he or she needs some help. The earlier that the intervention starts for your child, the quicker that the disorder can be addressed and corrected. Too often, the child, for whatever reason, does not get adequate help and the sound misproductions persist into their teen years (and beyond). Intuitively, the longer that the bad habit is allowed to continue, the longer and harder it will be to rectify.

Your first resource should be your child’s school. Even if you are home schooling, your local school district will mostly likely provide your child with services for speech. Your child’s pediatrician may also be able to refer you to a private SLP. Though not likely, your insurance might cover some speech services, so it’s worth checking in to if you have to get private services. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is an excellent source for finding a competent SLP in your area. There is an option to “ find an SLP ” on their website.

Treatment of the R sound by a speech-language pathologist on a consistent basis with identifiable goals is obviously the ideal option. However, that might not work for you and your child, because of availability, location or cost. Perhaps an option might be to get an evaluation and some hands-on training from an SLP, so that you can do the bulk of the work yourself. A note of caution and it bears repeating: A professional evaluation by a competent SLP is always a good investment. As you’ll discover below, treating the R sound is complex. It’s one thing to practice phonetically consistent words with your child; it’s a completely different task to determine what the most appropriate intervention target is.

One popular theory for correcting pronunciation (or articulation) disorders is to isolate sounds and work on correcting the sound in isolation. The basic sound (or what is called a phoneme) is selected as a target for treatment. Usually the position of the sound within a word is considered and treated. That is, does the sound appear in the beginning of the word, middle or end of the word (initial, medial, or final). Typical treatment includes drilling through the same sound over and over. Through this method, success is achieved by targeting a sound in a phonetically consistent manner. Phonetic consistency means that a target sound is isolated at the smallest possible level (sound of phoneme) and that the context of production (position in a word) must be consistent.

Everyone knows the vowels, right? A, e, i, o, u and sometimes y . Well R can be vowel-like too. That is depending on the location of the R relative to the vowel, the R will change pronunciation. Consider the words: car, fear, for . The R sound comes after the vowels. Each vowel is pronounced differently and so is the R . The R takes on the characteristic of the vowel depending on context and combination. The six different vocalic combinations, [ar, air, ear, er, or, ire], are collectively called vocalic R, r-controlled vowels, or vowel R . If R comes before the vowel (prevocalic) it remains consistently consonantal ( ribbon, race, ring, run, etc. ).

Here’s where it gets more complex. Considering the different possible word positions of the different vocalic variations, either in the initial, medial or final part of the word, in which the R sound is located there are many possible combinations. With the vocalic R variations added to the previously mentioned initial R combination, along with the multiple consonantal blend combinations [br, dr, cr, etc.], and the tricky [rl] combination ( world, twirl )—there are, all together at least 32 different R sounds to consider as separate distinct sounds!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Most speech-language pathologist dislike working on R. Many have difficulty in treating it because they were not trained to think of the R sound in so many combinations. They work on initial R, medial R and final R, just like the other consonants. So if you are working with a speech-language pathologist, make sure you ask questions: How do they evaluate and treat the R sound? What’s his or her background? Experience? Success rate? As in all walks of life, everyone has a specialty, so cleave to those that understand and are successful with your child’s disorder.

It’s critically important to identify which sounds your child consistently mispronounces. This is where a complete evaluation of the R sound is so important. Once identified, pick one sound (of the 32) as the intervention target and practice only that sound. Over and over. For example if your child can’t say “more” , which is [or] in the final word position (or final), then practice words in the same sound and word position, such as door, floor, pour, sure, core, store . That’s phonetic consistency. Practicing the same sound in the same word position, over and over, until success is achieved. Skipping around to different sounds is what leads to confusion, frustration and lack of success. The phonetically consistent practice of the same R sound in the same word position is the critical key to this approach and the ultimate successful production of R.

Research and experience demonstrates that success with one sound should favorably influence correction of other sounds as well. With consistent practice of the correct sound over time, success should become apparent.


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Why children have trouble making the ‘R’ sound, and when to call a therapist

How to tell if your child needs a speech therapist.

Sarah Jaffe

Learning to talk and communicate is an exciting time for toddlers and their parents, and it can be incredibly sweet to see how your little one’s speech advances over time. Anyone who has spent any time around little kids knows that it’s common for them to say “twuck” instead of “truck” and to struggle with other words that involve making that “R” sound.

  • Why do kids have trouble with the “R” sound?

When do most kids learn the sound?

How can speech therapy help, does speech therapy cost money, how do i find a speech therapist for my child.

But what is it about the “R” sound that makes it so challenging? And how do you know whether this common speech issue will resolve itself, or if you need to seek help from a professional?

Why do kids have trouble with the “R” sound?

The formal name for difficulty with the “R” sound is “rhoticism,” and is so common among children partly because it’s hard for children to observe how the adults in their lives make that particular sound. When adults make other common sounds, such as “s” or “th,” babies can easily observe the position of their lips and tongue and mimic them. When we make “R” sounds, nothing about our mouths changes. That makes it a more challenging process of trial and error for young children to learn to make the proper sound.

According to Christine Ristuccia, a certified speech-language pathologist and the president of the organization Say it Right , it’s common for children to fail to master the “R” sound until kindergarten or after. She suggests that parents look at the “R” sound in the broader context of their child’s speech.

A 3-year-old who substitutes the “W” sound where the “R” should be is not a cause for concern if his speech is mostly intelligible; a three-year-old whose speech is unintelligible to anyone but his parents likely needs early intervention. By second grade, when they’re between 7 and 8 years old, children should have mastered the sound.

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Ristuccia notes that children who are still struggling with the sound in second grade may have other adverse effects if they don’t get help. She writes that these children “may become more self-conscious of their speech, spelling may be affected adversely (notice all the second-grade spelling lists with R-controlled vowels?), and they may be open to teasing, resulting in a withdrawal from participation in discussions and activities.”

Meredith Avren, a speech and language pathologist from the speech therapy company Peachie Speechie, explains the various methods that speech therapists can use to help children learn to master this tricky sound. Speech-language pathologists may use tools like a “mouth puppet” to visually show children where to place their tongues and then have children make Play-Doh models of their own tongues to show the proper placement when making the “R” sound. (The website TeachersPayTeachers includes some examples of worksheets, showing the different tongue shapes.) She also uses tools like dental floss picks and lollipops to help children understand and remember how to place their tongue in order to differentiate between “R” and “W.”

Some parents might be intimidated by the price tag of speech therapy, and thus keep crossing their fingers and waiting for the problem to resolve on its own. And private speech therapy can be expensive. A certified speech and language pathologist can charge anywhere from $100 to $250 an hour. The good news, however, is that speech therapy can often be covered by medical insurance, including Medicaid.

If a child is school-aged, a parent may request that her child be evaluated for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). If the child’s IEP mandates that they receive speech therapy services, the public school district is required to ensure that the child gets provided that service at no cost to the parents. While it can often be an uphill battle for parents to ensure that their child receives all the mandated services in their IEP, a school’s failure to do so is a violation of federal law.

It may seem a little overwhelming to find a speech therapist for your child, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re concerned that your child’s speech isn’t developing as it should, ask your doctor for a recommendation for a trusted speech therapist. If your child is in preschool or school, their teacher will probably be able to refer you to someone as well.

You can also check the ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) website for speech therapist’s near you. If your child does suffer from rhotacism, treating it early can eradicate the issue. In short, if your four-year-old is still calling the fairy tale “Wittle Wed Widing Hood,” it’s probably too early to seek professional help; by the time they’re six, they might be “R”-ing like a pirate just from having a few more years of practice.

But if your 7- to 8-year-old child is still pronouncing her “R’s” as the “W” sound, or if you notice that your 3- to 5-year-old has numerous mispronunciations or that teachers and other adults struggle to understand them, it may be time to look into getting your child evaluated for speech services. A speech evaluation can help pinpoint the problems and recommend the necessary services to ensure that your child will grow up to be a confident speaker whose mispronunciations are just a cute childhood memory.

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Besides diapers, a changing table, a crib, and baby clothes, a rocking chair for the nursery is a must-have on any baby shower wish list. If you're considering a stationary armchair, rather than a rocking chair, take a look at these top reasons why a rocking chair is the cornerstone for your nursery.

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Exploring the /R/ Sound in Articulation Disorders

What Everyone Needs to Know About Articulation Disorders: Exploring the Sound /R/

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

Treatment Options:

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.

Online Speech Therapy Resources:

Net Connections for Speech Disorders and Sciences

Speaking of Speech

Pinterest Speech Therapy Ideas

Funky First Grade Fun 

Want to learn more about us? Visit:  Speech Buddies How It Works  or  watch our Speech Buddies YouTube Video.  

Parent's Guide to Speech & Communication Challenges

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How to Pronounce R's

Last Updated: November 16, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Devin Fisher, CCC-SLP . Devin Fisher is a Speech-Language Pathologist based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Devin specializes in speech and language therapy for individuals with aphasia, swallowing, voice, articulation, phonological social-pragmatic, motor speech, and fluency disorders. Furthermore, Devin treats cognitive-communication impairment, language delay, and Parkinson's Disease. He holds a BS and MS in Speech-Language Pathology from Fontbonne University. Devin also runs a related website and blog that offers speech-language therapy resources and information for clinicians and clients. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 409,597 times.

Many people cannot pronounce the "r" sound in the English language. It is a common issue with children learning to speak, and also affects many adults; in fact, many speech therapists say that the "r" sound is the hardest to correct. [1] X Research source Since the "r" sound is so important in the English language, learning to say it correctly can help prevent other speech problems.

Producing the R Sound

Step 1 Purse your lips.

  • This is a very important step in reciting the "r" sound, which cannot be executed unless the mouth is in an oval shape.
  • To assist another person in learning the "r" sound, encourage them to look at you as you form it correctly by forming a small "o" with your lips. [2] X Research source

Step 2 Constrict the pharynx.

  • To practice constricting the pharynx, gargle water while saying "ah." [3] X Trustworthy Source Johns Hopkins Medicine Official resource database of the world-leading Johns Hopkins Hospital Go to source Your pharynx will constrict in the same place that it must constrict to say the "r" sound.
  • Another way to learn how to constrict the pharynx involves gently biting both edges of the tongue with the molars and pressing up with the tongue onto the top molars. Say "eee" while doing this motion with the tongue; this is what it feels like when the pharynx constricts.

Step 3 Practice

  • Practice it every day, even if you are not getting the sound correctly. If you have a friend or partner who can help you daily, ask them to say the word to you and you say it back to them as you watch in a mirror, so you can watch their sound production and compare it to your own.

Understanding How to Articulate the R

Step 1 Understand that the

  • Most toddlers begin saying the sound like a "w" instead of an "r," as in "wabbit." This can continue for several years and usually self-corrects without intervention.
  • The proper pronunciation of the "r" sound before the age of 6 or 7 is typically not a concern. If it's not accompanied by other speech problems or by social anxiety, its often best to let it resolve on its own. [4] X Research source
  • Age and intelligibility can be a clue as to whether or not a child needs intervention for language skills. If a 3-year-old is not intelligible to strangers at all, that can signal a problem; however, a kindergartner who is intelligible but still struggles with the "r" is probably in the range of normal. By second grade, a child should be able to pronounce the "r" sound. [5] X Research source

Step 2 Know the parts of the mouth involved in producing the

  • The lips: To understand how the lips function when saying the "r" sound, ask someone who can pronounce it properly to say the word "rabbit." What does their mouth do when they say the "r" part of the word? If they're forming it correctly, their mouth makes a small circle. The rounded lips are the first component of a proper "r" pronunciation. [6] X Research source
  • The tongue: If you are unable to make the "r" sound, you may have no idea what a tongue should be doing while properly pronouncing the "r." In fact, the tongue makes a small mound or hump in the mouth, and sound waves travel over that mound to properly execute the sound. [7] X Research source
  • The pharynx: The pharynx is another word for the throat, and the part of the pharynx that is associated with the "r" sound is at the very top of the throat. In order to make the "r" sound, the pharynx has to constrict or tighten.

Step 3 See a speech-language pathologist.

  • An SLP will conduct a thorough evaluation of all elements of you or your child's speech, including your muscle control, articulation, eating habits, and receptive skills (that is, how well you or your child understands spoken language).

Troubleshooting the R Sound

Step 1 Strengthen your pharynx.

  • One way to strengthen it is to gargle water every day. Try to articulate the sound "ah" while you gargle the water in the back of your throat; this is a similar motion to what you need to do when you are saying the "r" sound. [10] X Research source

Step 2 Differentiate sounds by watching your face.

  • Watch your friend's face as he properly executes the different sounds, then watch your own face as you attempt to execute the sounds. Look to see how your lips' position moves with each sound.

Step 3 Consider a speech positioning device.

  • A speech-language pathologist can help you to determine if a positioning device is right for you. Examples of these positioning devices are available from the Speech Buddy manufacturer at

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • These techniques can also help native English speakers when trying to learn the difficult "rolled r" of Czech or the infamous "rz" sound in Polish. Even if English doesn't have these letters (and some people can't hear the difference), English speakers can learn to mimic the mouth motions. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Consider using an app that can help you by providing the correct pronunciations of words that you can then try to approximate. "Sounds of Speech" is a very highly rated app that was created by researchers at the University of Iowa and is available in the Apple download store. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

speech impediment can't say r

  • Stress and anxiety can truly contribute to speech impediments. Relax and the sound will flow more smoothly. Thanks Helpful 16 Not Helpful 7

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About This Article

Devin Fisher, CCC-SLP

To pronounce “r” in English, start by pursing your lips so that they form a small “o” shape. Then, allow your tongue to make a small mound in your mouth so the sound can travel over it. Once your lips and tongue are in place, tighten the muscles at the very top of you throat as you practice words that end in “r,” such as “car” or “for.” Additionally, try practicing in front of a mirror to help you adjust your lips and tongue. If you’re still having trouble, strengthen your throat muscles by gargling water every day, which will help you articulate the “r” sound. For more tips, including how to practice tightening your throat muscles to make an “r” sound, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy | Providing Speech Therapy for Adults since 2012

What Makes “R” So Difficult, and How Can I Change It?

Written by: Megan Smith / Articulation & Lisps / February 2019

Research on Accent Modification, article written by Melissa James. We are a team of Toronto-based speech-language pathologists (AKA communication coach, dialect coach, speech teacher) who are experts in accent modification

Roughly 1-2% of people will enter adulthood with speech sound errors that remain from childhood (Flipsen, 2015), and a large number of those errors are mispronunciations of R.

In childhood, there is up to a 75% chance that this pronunciation difference will resolve itself with time. However, it is very unlikely that anyone who has trouble with R after high school will learn how to produce the sound without help.

What makes R so difficult?

One of the things that makes the R sound so difficult is that there are several different sounds that make up what we think of as the “R” sound in English (when it is spoken with a North American accent). We have the consonant R, often transcribed by phoneticists or speech-language pathologists as /r/ (as in “ r ed”). We also have rhotic vowels, such as /ɝ/ (as in “h er ”). Learning to say the R in “red” may not help a person feel confident when they say “her,” and the reverse is also true.

Another factor that makes R more difficult to learn is that there is no good landmark to use to help while learning how to pronounce it. It is fairly easy to learn to pronounce T, as you have to touch the roof of your mouth, behind your teeth, with the tip of your tongue. Similarly, to pronounce P, you put both lips together. If you say “pat,” you can feel your lips (for P) and tongue (for T) touching the correct place as you say each sound. If you say “rat,” your tongue will touch the roof of your mouth for the T. You may notice that your lips round as you say R, but accurately sensing what happens to your tongue as you pronounce that sound will be much more difficult.

To make matters even more complicated, there is more than one “correct” way to pronounce the R. If you compare your pronunciation of P with those of your friends and family, they will likely all be the same. However, if you could use an MRI machine to see the shape of your tongue as you pronounced R, you may notice that your pronunciation and those of your family and friends may all be slightly different. There are two general categories of ways to pronounce R: bunched (in which the body of the tongue is higher than the tip of the tongue) and retroflex (the tip of the tongue is held high in the mouth). You may be better suited to one, or both in different situations – this means that there are more different options to try than there would be for another sound like P, and that the first version you try may not be the one that works best for you. For those who are interested in learning more, or seeing images of the different tongue shapes used to pronounce R, look into the Delattre and Freeman (1968) R taxonomy, or a more recent taxonomy described by Tiede and colleagues in 2004. Citations are listed below for both studies.


How do I get the R sound that I want?

It is not always necessary to “fix” a sound that is pronounced differently, but those would like to change the way they pronounce R can seek services from a speech-language pathologist. Because of the complicating factors outlined above, R can be a difficult sound to learn.

Changing your R

If you want to change the way you pronounce your R, it will require plenty of work to meet your goal. Your participation in the process will be critical and attending weekly speech therapy appointments alone will not be sufficient to create meaningful change. Expect to spend a portion of every day either trying to bring your R closer to your target pronunciation, or practicing your new R in different contexts to reinforce your new pronunciation habits. One woman who I spoke to recently, whose R was treated in adolescence, she told me that in the end, she “figured out” her R while sitting on a bus! Practicing her strategies for R in speech therapy appointments had felt silly week after week. It wasn’t until she had practiced with those techniques on her own time that she finally found herself able to position her tongue to make the sound well.

Traditional Speech Therapy Techniques

Traditional pronunciation training from a speech-language pathologist can look very different depending on the client and what works well for them. But your speech-language pathologist will likely use some, or all, of these strategies to help you produce your R well:

images and diagrams to help explain what you need to do with your tongue to make the sound

exercises to help you become more aware of where the back of your tongue sits in your mouth and how to move it voluntarily

using words and sounds that set you up for the pronunciation you want (for example, using the “ah” vowel to help the muscles of your mouth get close to the position they sit in for a retroflex R)

giving exactly the level of feedback you need for your level of mastery for the sound

assigning home practice tailored to your strengths and weaknesses

Using Biofeedback

Technology is amazing, and research has shown that the use of MRI and ultrasound in particular can be very effective for clients learning R! Using these machines, clients can watch their tongue in real time and adjust its position to match one of the R shapes (Bernhardt et al., 2005). Unfortunately, this equipment is prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of speech-language pathology clinics. 

Luckily, other kinds of feedback can be used that are still objective measurements of how effectively a client is producing Rs (Byun & Hitchcock, 2012). For example, a speech-language pathologist can show you how to use a spectrogram app on your phone to help you judge whether your R is getting closer to (or farther from) your target as you practice at home. For people who are unsure whether they are practicing their strategies correctly, getting a helping hand from their phone or computer will keep them on the right track – which will help them meet their goals faster.

Bernhardt, B., Gick, B., Bacsfalvi, P., & Adler-Bock, M. (2005). Ultrasound in speech therapy with adolescents and adults.  Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 19 (6-7), 605-17.

Delattre, P., & Freeman, D. C. (1968). A dialect study of American r’s by x-ray motion picture.  Linguistics, 6 , 29–68.

Flipsen, P. (2015). Emergence and prevalence of persistent and residual speech errors.  Seminars in Speech and Language, 36(4) , 217-23

Byun, T. M., & Hitchcock, E.R. (2012). Investigating the use of traditional and spectral biofeedback approaches to intervention for /r/ misarticulation.  American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 21 (3), 207-21.

Tiede, M., Boyce, S. E., Holland, C., & Chou, A. (2004). A new taxonomy of American English ∕r∕ using MRI and ultrasound.  The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 115 , 2633–2634.

Speech sound errors tend not to be resolved in adulthood without direct treatment. To speak with one of the speech-language pathologists at Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy about your pronunciation of /r/ (or any other sounds), schedule an initial consultation by clicking the link below or calling (647) 795-5277.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Speech Therapy

As technology continues to evolve, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in a professional capacity within the healthcare system is on the rise. As such, it is warranted to consider how artificial intelligence could be integrated into a speech therapist's practice.

The Importance Of Social Skills

Social skills are a set of skills which makes a person communicate effectively with others to  create and maintain relationships and network well with people. It is important to have good  social skills to be confident and successful.

How To Build Habits

It’s often assumed that successful people must have an exuberant amount of willpower, dedication or discipline however, this success can likely be attributed to formed habits.

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Types of Speech Impediments

Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.

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Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Articulation Errors

Ankyloglossia, treating speech disorders.

A speech impediment, also known as a speech disorder , is a condition that can affect a person’s ability to form sounds and words, making their speech difficult to understand.

Speech disorders generally become evident in early childhood, as children start speaking and learning language. While many children initially have trouble with certain sounds and words, most are able to speak easily by the time they are five years old. However, some speech disorders persist. Approximately 5% of children aged three to 17 in the United States experience speech disorders.

There are many different types of speech impediments, including:

  • Articulation errors

This article explores the causes, symptoms, and treatment of the different types of speech disorders.

Speech impediments that break the flow of speech are known as disfluencies. Stuttering is the most common form of disfluency, however there are other types as well.

Symptoms and Characteristics of Disfluencies

These are some of the characteristics of disfluencies:

  • Repeating certain phrases, words, or sounds after the age of 4 (For example: “O…orange,” “I like…like orange juice,” “I want…I want orange juice”)
  • Adding in extra sounds or words into sentences (For example: “We…uh…went to buy…um…orange juice”)
  • Elongating words (For example: Saying “orange joooose” instead of "orange juice")
  • Replacing words (For example: “What…Where is the orange juice?”)
  • Hesitating while speaking (For example: A long pause while thinking)
  • Pausing mid-speech (For example: Stopping abruptly mid-speech, due to lack of airflow, causing no sounds to come out, leading to a tense pause)

In addition, someone with disfluencies may also experience the following symptoms while speaking:

  • Vocal tension and strain
  • Head jerking
  • Eye blinking
  • Lip trembling

Causes of Disfluencies

People with disfluencies tend to have neurological differences in areas of the brain that control language processing and coordinate speech, which may be caused by:

  • Genetic factors
  • Trauma or infection to the brain
  • Environmental stressors that cause anxiety or emotional distress
  • Neurodevelopmental conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Articulation disorders occur when a person has trouble placing their tongue in the correct position to form certain speech sounds. Lisping is the most common type of articulation disorder.

Symptoms and Characteristics of Articulation Errors

These are some of the characteristics of articulation disorders:

  • Substituting one sound for another . People typically have trouble with ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds. (For example: Being unable to say “rabbit” and saying “wabbit” instead)
  • Lisping , which refers specifically to difficulty with ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds. (For example: Saying “thugar” instead of “sugar” or producing a whistling sound while trying to pronounce these letters)
  • Omitting sounds (For example: Saying “coo” instead of “school”)
  • Adding sounds (For example: Saying “pinanio” instead of “piano”)
  • Making other speech errors that can make it difficult to decipher what the person is saying. For instance, only family members may be able to understand what they’re trying to say.

Causes of Articulation Errors

Articulation errors may be caused by:

  • Genetic factors, as it can run in families
  • Hearing loss , as mishearing sounds can affect the person’s ability to reproduce the sound
  • Changes in the bones or muscles that are needed for speech, including a cleft palate (a hole in the roof of the mouth) and tooth problems
  • Damage to the nerves or parts of the brain that coordinate speech, caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy , for instance

Ankyloglossia, also known as tongue-tie, is a condition where the person’s tongue is attached to the bottom of their mouth. This can restrict the tongue’s movement and make it hard for the person to move their tongue.

Symptoms and Characteristics of Ankyloglossia

Ankyloglossia is characterized by difficulty pronouncing ‘d,’ ‘n,’ ‘s,’ ‘t,’ ‘th,’ and ‘z’ sounds that require the person’s tongue to touch the roof of their mouth or their upper teeth, as their tongue may not be able to reach there.

Apart from speech impediments, people with ankyloglossia may also experience other symptoms as a result of their tongue-tie. These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breastfeeding in newborns
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Limited ability to move the tongue from side to side or stick it out
  • Difficulty with activities like playing wind instruments, licking ice cream, or kissing
  • Mouth breathing

Causes of Ankyloglossia

Ankyloglossia is a congenital condition, which means it is present from birth. A tissue known as the lingual frenulum attaches the tongue to the base of the mouth. People with ankyloglossia have a shorter lingual frenulum, or it is attached further along their tongue than most people’s.

Dysarthria is a condition where people slur their words because they cannot control the muscles that are required for speech, due to brain, nerve, or organ damage.

Symptoms and Characteristics of Dysarthria

Dysarthria is characterized by:

  • Slurred, choppy, or robotic speech
  • Rapid, slow, or soft speech
  • Breathy, hoarse, or nasal voice

Additionally, someone with dysarthria may also have other symptoms such as difficulty swallowing and inability to move their tongue, lips, or jaw easily.

Causes of Dysarthria

Dysarthria is caused by paralysis or weakness of the speech muscles. The causes of the weakness can vary depending on the type of dysarthria the person has:

  • Central dysarthria is caused by brain damage. It may be the result of neuromuscular diseases, such as cerebral palsy, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Central dysarthria may also be caused by injuries or illnesses that damage the brain, such as dementia, stroke, brain tumor, or traumatic brain injury .
  • Peripheral dysarthria is caused by damage to the organs involved in speech. It may be caused by congenital structural problems, trauma to the mouth or face, or surgery to the tongue, mouth, head, neck, or voice box.

Apraxia, also known as dyspraxia, verbal apraxia, or apraxia of speech, is a neurological condition that can cause a person to have trouble moving the muscles they need to create sounds or words. The person’s brain knows what they want to say, but is unable to plan and sequence the words accordingly.

Symptoms and Characteristics of Apraxia

These are some of the characteristics of apraxia:

  • Distorting sounds: The person may have trouble pronouncing certain sounds, particularly vowels, because they may be unable to move their tongue or jaw in the manner required to produce the right sound. Longer or more complex words may be especially harder to manage.
  • Being inconsistent in their speech: For instance, the person may be able to pronounce a word correctly once, but may not be able to repeat it. Or, they may pronounce it correctly today and differently on another day.
  • Grasping for words: The person may appear to be searching for the right word or sound, or attempt the pronunciation several times before getting it right.
  • Making errors with the rhythm or tone of speech: The person may struggle with using tone and inflection to communicate meaning. For instance, they may not stress any of the words in a sentence, have trouble going from one syllable in a word to another, or pause at an inappropriate part of a sentence.

Causes of Apraxia

Apraxia occurs when nerve pathways in the brain are interrupted, which can make it difficult for the brain to send messages to the organs involved in speaking. The causes of these neurological disturbances can vary depending on the type of apraxia the person has:

  • Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS): This condition is present from birth and is often hereditary. A person may be more likely to have it if a biological relative has a learning disability or communication disorder.
  • Acquired apraxia of speech (AOS): This condition can occur in adults, due to brain damage as a result of a tumor, head injury , stroke, or other illness that affects the parts of the brain involved in speech.

If you have a speech impediment, or suspect your child might have one, it can be helpful to visit your healthcare provider. Your primary care physician can refer you to a speech-language pathologist, who can evaluate speech, diagnose speech disorders, and recommend treatment options.

The diagnostic process may involve a physical examination as well as psychological, neurological, or hearing tests, in order to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other causes.

Treatment for speech disorders often involves speech therapy, which can help you learn how to move your muscles and position your tongue correctly in order to create specific sounds. It can be quite effective in improving your speech.

Children often grow out of milder speech disorders; however, special education and speech therapy can help with more serious ones.

For ankyloglossia, or tongue-tie, a minor surgery known as a frenectomy can help detach the tongue from the bottom of the mouth.

A Word From Verywell

A speech impediment can make it difficult to pronounce certain sounds, speak clearly, or communicate fluently. 

Living with a speech disorder can be frustrating because people may cut you off while you’re speaking, try to finish your sentences, or treat you differently. It can be helpful to talk to your healthcare providers about how to cope with these situations.

You may also benefit from joining a support group, where you can connect with others living with speech disorders.

National Library of Medicine. Speech disorders . Medline Plus.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Language and speech disorders .

Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Stuttering .

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Quick statistics about voice, speech, and language .

Cleveland Clinic. Speech impediment .

Lee H, Sim H, Lee E, Choi D. Disfluency characteristics of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms . J Commun Disord . 2017;65:54-64. doi:10.1016/j.jcomdis.2016.12.001

Nemours Foundation. Speech problems .

Penn Medicine. Speech and language disorders .

Cleveland Clinic. Tongue-tie .

University of Rochester Medical Center. Ankyloglossia .

Cleveland Clinic. Dysarthria .

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Apraxia of speech .

Cleveland Clinic. Childhood apraxia of speech .

Stanford Children’s Hospital. Speech sound disorders in children .

Abbastabar H, Alizadeh A, Darparesh M, Mohseni S, Roozbeh N. Spatial distribution and the prevalence of speech disorders in the provinces of Iran . J Med Life . 2015;8(Spec Iss 2):99-104.

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Home / Blog

Speech Impediment Guide: Definition, Causes, and Resources

December 8, 2020 

speech impediment can't say r

Tables of Contents

What Is a Speech Impediment?

Types of speech disorders, speech impediment causes, how to fix a speech impediment, making a difference in speech disorders.

Communication is a cornerstone of human relationships. When an individual struggles to verbalize information, thoughts, and feelings, it can cause major barriers in personal, learning, and business interactions.

Speech impediments, or speech disorders, can lead to feelings of insecurity and frustration. They can also cause worry for family members and friends who don’t know how to help their loved ones express themselves.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways that speech disorders can be treated, and in many cases, cured. Health professionals in fields including speech-language pathology and audiology can work with patients to overcome communication disorders, and individuals and families can learn techniques to help.

A woman struggles to communicate due to a speech disorder.

Commonly referred to as a speech disorder, a speech impediment is a condition that impacts an individual’s ability to speak fluently, correctly, or with clear resonance or tone. Individuals with speech disorders have problems creating understandable sounds or forming words, leading to communication difficulties.

Some 7.7% of U.S. children — or 1 in 12 youths between the ages of 3 and 17 — have speech, voice, language, or swallowing disorders, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). About 70 million people worldwide, including some 3 million Americans, experience stuttering difficulties, according to the Stuttering Foundation.

Common signs of a speech disorder

There are several symptoms and indicators that can point to a speech disorder.

  • Unintelligible speech — A speech disorder may be present when others have difficulty understanding a person’s verbalizations.
  • Omitted sounds — This symptom can include the omission of part of a word, such as saying “bo” instead of “boat,” and may include omission of consonants or syllables.
  • Added sounds — This can involve adding extra sounds in a word, such as “buhlack” instead of “black,” or repeating sounds like “b-b-b-ball.”
  • Substituted sounds — When sounds are substituted or distorted, such as saying “wabbit” instead of “rabbit,” it may indicate a speech disorder.
  • Use of gestures — When individuals use gestures to communicate instead of words, a speech impediment may be the cause.
  • Inappropriate pitch — This symptom is characterized by speaking with a strange pitch or volume.

In children, signs might also include a lack of babbling or making limited sounds. Symptoms may also include the incorrect use of specific sounds in words, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). This may include the sounds p, m, b, w, and h among children aged 1-2, and k, f, g, d, n, and t for children aged 2-3.

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Signs of speech disorders include unintelligible speech and sound omissions, substitutions, and additions.

Categories of Speech Impediments

Speech impediments can range from speech sound disorders (articulation and phonological disorders) to voice disorders. Speech sound disorders may be organic — resulting from a motor or sensory cause — or may be functional with no known cause. Voice disorders deal with physical problems that limit speech. The main categories of speech impediments include the following:

Fluency disorders occur when a patient has trouble with speech timing or rhythms. This can lead to hesitations, repetitions, or prolonged sounds. Fluency disorders include stuttering (repetition of sounds) or   (rapid or irregular rate of speech).

Resonance disorders are related to voice quality that is impacted by the shape of the nose, throat, and/or mouth. Examples of resonance disorders include hyponasality and cul-de-sac resonance.

Articulation disorders occur when a patient has difficulty producing speech sounds. These disorders may stem from physical or anatomical limitations such as muscular, neuromuscular, or skeletal support. Examples of articulation speech impairments include sound omissions, substitutions, and distortions.

Phonological disorders result in the misuse of certain speech sounds to form words. Conditions include fronting, stopping, and the omission of final consonants.

Voice disorders are the result of problems in the larynx that harm the quality or use of an individual’s voice. This can impact pitch, resonance, and loudness.

Impact of Speech Disorders

Some speech disorders have little impact on socialization and daily activities, but other conditions can make some tasks difficult for individuals. Following are a few of the impacts of speech impediments.

  • Poor communication — Children may be unable to participate in certain learning activities, such as answering questions or reading out loud, due to communication difficulties. Adults may avoid work or social activities such as giving speeches or attending parties.
  • Mental health and confidence — Speech disorders may cause children or adults to feel different from peers, leading to a lack of self-confidence and, potentially, self-isolation.

Resources on Speech Disorders

The following resources may help those who are seeking more information about speech impediments.

Health Information : Information and statistics on common voice and speech disorders from the NIDCD

Speech Disorders : Information on childhood speech disorders from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Speech, Language, and Swallowing : Resources about speech and language development from the ASHA

Children and adults can suffer from a variety of speech impairments that may have mild to severe impacts on their ability to communicate. The following 10 conditions are examples of specific types of speech disorders and voice disorders.

1. Stuttering

This condition is one of the most common speech disorders. Stuttering is the repetition of syllables or words, interruptions in speech, or prolonged use of a sound.

This organic speech disorder is a result of damage to the neural pathways that connect the brain to speech-producing muscles. This results in a person knowing what they want to say, but being unable to speak the words.

This consists of the lost ability to speak, understand, or write languages. It is common in stroke, brain tumor, or traumatic brain injury patients.

4. Dysarthria

This condition is an organic speech sound disorder that involves difficulty expressing certain noises. This may involve slurring, or poor pronunciation, and rhythm differences related to nerve or brain disorders.

The condition of lisping is the replacing of sounds in words, including “th” for “s.” Lisping is a functional speech impediment.

6. Hyponasality

This condition is a resonance disorder related to limited sound coming through the nose, causing a “stopped up” quality to speech.

7. Cul-de-sac resonance

This speech disorder is the result of blockage in the mouth, throat, or nose that results in quiet or muffled speech.

8. Orofacial myofunctional disorders

These conditions involve abnormal patterns of mouth and face movement. Conditions include tongue thrusting (fronting), where individuals push out their tongue while eating or talking.

9. Spasmodic Dysphonia

This condition is a voice disorder in which spasms in the vocal cords produce speech that is hoarse, strained, or jittery.

10. Other voice disorders

These conditions can include having a voice that sounds breathy, hoarse, or scratchy. Some disorders deal with vocal folds closing when they should open (paradoxical vocal fold movement) or the presence of polyps or nodules in the vocal folds.

Speech Disorders vs. Language Disorders

Speech disorders deal with difficulty in creating sounds due to articulation, fluency, phonology, and voice problems. These problems are typically related to physical, motor, sensory, neurological, or mental health issues.

Language disorders, on the other hand, occur when individuals have difficulty communicating the meaning of what they want to express. Common in children, these disorders may result in low vocabulary and difficulty saying complex sentences. Such a disorder may reflect difficulty in comprehending school lessons or adopting new words, or it may be related to a learning disability such as dyslexia. Language disorders can also involve receptive language difficulties, where individuals have trouble understanding the messages that others are trying to convey.  

About 5% of children in the U.S. have a speech disorder such as stuttering, apraxia, dysarthria, and lisping.

Resources on Types of Speech Disorders

The following resources may provide additional information on the types of speech impediments.

Common Speech Disorders: A guide to the most common speech impediments from GreatSpeech

Speech impairment in adults: Descriptions of common adult speech issues from MedlinePlus

Stuttering Facts: Information on stuttering indications and causes from the Stuttering Foundation

Speech disorders may be caused by a variety of factors related to physical features, neurological ailments, or mental health conditions. In children, they may be related to developmental issues or unknown causes and may go away naturally over time.

Physical and neurological issues. Speech impediment causes related to physical characteristics may include:

  • Brain damage
  • Nervous system damage
  • Respiratory system damage
  • Hearing difficulties
  • Cancerous or noncancerous growths
  • Muscle and bone problems such as dental issues or cleft palate

Mental health issues. Some speech disorders are related to clinical conditions such as:

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Down syndrome or other genetic syndromes
  • Cerebral palsy or other neurological disorders
  • Multiple sclerosis

Some speech impairments may also have to do with family history, such as when parents or siblings have experienced language or speech difficulties. Other causes may include premature birth, pregnancy complications, or delivery difficulties. Voice overuse and chronic coughs can also cause speech issues.

The most common way that speech disorders are treated involves seeking professional help. If patients and families feel that symptoms warrant therapy, health professionals can help determine how to fix a speech impediment. Early treatment is best to curb speech disorders, but impairments can also be treated later in life.

Professionals in the speech therapy field include speech-language pathologists (SLPs) . These practitioners assess, diagnose, and treat communication disorders including speech, language, social, cognitive, and swallowing disorders in both adults and children. They may have an SLP assistant to help with diagnostic and therapy activities.

Speech-language pathologists may also share a practice with audiologists and audiology assistants. Audiologists help identify and treat hearing, balance, and other auditory disorders.

How Are Speech Disorders Diagnosed?

Typically, a pediatrician, social worker, teacher, or other concerned party will recognize the symptoms of a speech disorder in children. These individuals, who frequently deal with speech and language conditions and are more familiar with symptoms, will recommend that parents have their child evaluated. Adults who struggle with speech problems may seek direct guidance from a physician or speech evaluation specialist.

When evaluating a patient for a potential speech impediment, a physician will:

  • Conduct hearing and vision tests
  • Evaluate patient records
  • Observe patient symptoms

A speech-language pathologist will conduct an initial screening that might include:

  • An evaluation of speech sounds in words and sentences
  • An evaluation of oral motor function
  • An orofacial examination
  • An assessment of language comprehension

The initial screening might result in no action if speech symptoms are determined to be developmentally appropriate. If a disorder is suspected, the initial screening might result in a referral for a comprehensive speech sound assessment, comprehensive language assessment, audiology evaluation, or other medical services.

Initial assessments and more in-depth screenings might occur in a private speech therapy practice, rehabilitation center, school, childcare program, or early intervention center. For older adults, skilled nursing centers and nursing homes may assess patients for speech, hearing, and language disorders.

How Are Speech Impediments Treated?

Once an evaluation determines precisely what type of speech sound disorder is present, patients can begin treatment. Speech-language pathologists use a combination of therapy, exercise, and assistive devices to treat speech disorders.

Speech therapy might focus on motor production (articulation) or linguistic (phonological or language-based) elements of speech, according to ASHA. There are various types of speech therapy available to patients.

Contextual Utilization  — This therapeutic approach teaches methods for producing sounds consistently in different syllable-based contexts, such as phonemic or phonetic contexts. These methods are helpful for patients who produce sounds inconsistently.

Phonological Contrast — This approach focuses on improving speech through emphasis of phonemic contrasts that serve to differentiate words. Examples might include minimal opposition words (pot vs. spot) or maximal oppositions (mall vs. call). These therapy methods can help patients who use phonological error patterns.

Distinctive Feature — In this category of therapy, SLPs focus on elements that are missing in speech, such as articulation or nasality. This helps patients who substitute sounds by teaching them to distinguish target sounds from substituted sounds.

Core Vocabulary — This therapeutic approach involves practicing whole words that are commonly used in a specific patient’s communications. It is effective for patients with inconsistent sound production.

Metaphon — In this type of therapy, patients are taught to identify phonological language structures. The technique focuses on contrasting sound elements, such as loud vs. quiet, and helps patients with unintelligible speech issues.

Oral-Motor — This approach uses non-speech exercises to supplement sound therapies. This helps patients gain oral-motor strength and control to improve articulation.

Other methods professionals may use to help fix speech impediments include relaxation, breathing, muscle strengthening, and voice exercises. They may also recommend assistive devices, which may include:

  • Radio transmission systems
  • Personal amplifiers
  • Picture boards
  • Touch screens
  • Text displays
  • Speech-generating devices
  • Hearing aids
  • Cochlear implants

Resources for Professionals on How to Fix a Speech Impediment

The following resources provide information for speech therapists and other health professionals.

Assistive Devices: Information on hearing and speech aids from the NIDCD

Information for Audiologists: Publications, news, and practice aids for audiologists from ASHA

Information for Speech-Language Pathologists: Publications, news, and practice aids for SLPs from ASHA

Speech Disorder Tips for Families

For parents who are concerned that their child might have a speech disorder — or who want to prevent the development of a disorder — there are a number of activities that can help. The following are tasks that parents can engage in on a regular basis to develop literacy and speech skills.

  • Introducing new vocabulary words
  • Reading picture and story books with various sounds and patterns
  • Talking to children about objects and events
  • Answering children’s questions during routine activities
  • Encouraging drawing and scribbling
  • Pointing to words while reading books
  • Pointing out words and sentences in objects and signs

Parents can take the following steps to make sure that potential speech impediments are identified early on.

  • Discussing concerns with physicians
  • Asking for hearing, vision, and speech screenings from doctors
  • Requesting special education assessments from school officials
  • Requesting a referral to a speech-language pathologist, audiologist, or other specialist

When a child is engaged in speech therapy, speech-language pathologists will typically establish collaborative relationships with families, sharing information and encouraging parents to participate in therapy decisions and practices.

SLPs will work with patients and their families to set goals for therapy outcomes. In addition to therapy sessions, they may develop activities and exercises for families to work on at home. It is important that caregivers are encouraging and patient with children during therapy.  

Resources for Parents on How to Fix a Speech Impediment

The following resources provide additional information on treatment options for speech disorders.

Speech, Language, and Swallowing Disorders Groups: Listing of self-help groups from ASHA

ProFind: Search tool for finding certified SLPs and audiologists from ASHA

Baby’s Hearing and Communication Development Checklist: Listing of milestones that children should meet by certain ages from the NIDCD

If identified during childhood, speech disorders can be corrected efficiently, giving children greater communication opportunities. If left untreated, speech impediments can cause a variety of problems in adulthood, and may be more difficult to diagnose and treat.

Parents, teachers, doctors, speech and language professionals, and other concerned parties all have unique responsibilities in recognizing and treating speech disorders. Through professional therapy, family engagement, positive encouragement and a strong support network, individuals with speech impediments can overcome their challenges and develop essential communication skills.

Additional Sources

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Speech Sound Disorders

Identify the Signs, Signs of Speech and Language Disorders

Intermountain Healthcare, Phonological Disorders

MedlinePlus, Speech disorders – children

National Institutes of Health, National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “Quick Statistics About Voice, Speech, Language”

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Parent's Academy › Speech Disorders › Speech Impediments › 6 Types of Speech Impediments

6 Types of Speech Impediments

Stacie bennett.

Speech-Language Pathologist , Trenton , New Jersey

Jan 28, 2022 ‘Speech and language impediment’ is a very broad term that refers to a communication disorder in an individual that has depressed social, language, communication, hearing, or fluency skills.

In This Article

Speech therapy exercises with speech blubs, apraxia of speech, speech sound disorder, specific language impairment, language-based learning disabilities, key takeaways about speech impediments.

A speech impediment relates to the way an individual produces or articulates specific sounds. One example of this is stuttering. Under the umbrella of a speech impairment lies several different types of disorders with which a child or adult can be diagnosed.

A language impairment involves understanding and sharing thoughts and ideas. For example, this person may not have adequate or “age-appropriate” vocabulary and grammar skills. Again, there are several different language disorders that fall under this category that will be addressed in this blog.

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speech impediment can't say r

3 Types of Speech Disorders

Apraxia of speech is a neurogenic (starts in the nervous system) communication disorder that involves the planning system for speech.

Individuals with Apraxia know what they want to say, but there is a disconnect in the part of the brain that tells a specific muscle to move. When someone is diagnosed with  apraxia of speech , they may have signs of groping, which is where the mouth searches for the position to create the sound.

When this occurs, it affects how long or short the sounds are, and could lead to odd pitch or volume issues and to sounds being distorted or substituted. A tell-tale sign of someone who has apraxia is that they lose the ability to produce sounds that they previously could say.

For instance, if you ask a child to say the word “dog,” which they do successfully and then ask them to say the same word again 10 minutes later, they will not be able to do it. 

Speech sound disorders may be of two varieties: articulation (the production of sounds) or phonological processes (sound patterns).

An articulation disorder  may take the form of substitution, omission, addition, or distortion of normal speech sounds.

Phonological process disorders  may involve more systematic difficulties with the production of particular types of sounds, such as those made in the back of the mouth, like “k” and “g” (ASHA 2018).

Educating a child on the appropriate ways to produce a speech sound and encouraging the child to practice this articulation over time may produce natural speech.

For additional reading on articulation and phonological disorders, check these blogs:

  • What Are Phonological Processes
  • Process of Articulation Therapy

Stuttering  is a disruption in the fluency of an individual’s speech, which begins in childhood and may persist over a lifetime.

Stuttering is a form of disfluency (an inability to produce fluent speech). Disfluency becomes a problem because it impedes successful communication between two parties. Disfluencies may be due to unwanted repetitions of sounds (e.g., “I-I-I want ice cream”), or the extension of speech sounds (e.g., “S——tart the wash”), syllables (e.g., “Na-na-na nasty”), or words (e.g., “go-go-go to the store”). Disfluencies also incorporate unintentional pauses in speech, in which the individual is unable to produce speech sounds (ASHA 2016).

Unfortunately, the cause of stuttering is unknown, which makes it more difficult to treat. Treatment can vary from person to person depending on the severity and type of stuttering that is occurring. 

Stutter or stammer can be normal for kids who learn language.

Read more on  how to distinguish stuttering as a part of typical speech development from stuttering as a speech disorder!

3 Types of Language Disorders

Specific Learning Impairment (SLI) is diagnosed when a child’s language is not developing as rapidly or as typically as other children. In order for a child to be diagnosed with SLI, they cannot have Autism Spectrum Disorder, Apraxia, hearing loss, or an abnormality of the speech mechanisms. If those disorders are present, they do not have SLI and are exhibiting speech patterns typical of those diagnoses. Usually, the first indication of SLI is that the child is later than usual in starting to speak and subsequently is delayed in putting words together to form sentences.  Spoken language  may be immature. In many children with SLI, understanding of  language , or  receptive  language, is also impaired, though this may not be obvious unless the child is given a formal assessment. This diagnosis is reserved for children whose language difficulties persist into school age, not for children who are speech delayed and eventually catch up to their peers. 

speech impediment can't say r

Aphasia  is an inability to comprehend or formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions.

The major causes are a cerebral vascular accident (stroke), or head trauma, but aphasia can also be the result of brain tumors, brain infections, or neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia (ASHA 2017).

The difficulties of people with aphasia can range from occasional trouble finding words, to losing the ability to speak, read, or write; intelligence, however, is unaffected. Any person of any age can develop aphasia, given that it is often caused by a traumatic injury. However, people who are middle-aged and older are the most likely to experience the problem. 

Language-based learning disabilities occur in children who are falling behind their same-aged peers. These children will have difficulties with spelling, reading, and/or writing, but have normal intelligence levels. This is a common source of academic struggles in young children and can often be misdiagnosed or missed in typical assessments.

The key to supporting students with LBLD is knowing how to adjust curriculum and instruction to ensure they develop  proficient language and literacy skills . Most individuals with LBLD need instruction that is specialized, explicit, structured, and multisensory, as well as ongoing, guided practice aimed at remediating their specific areas of weakness.

There are a lot of speech and language impediments that can occur in children and adults. This blog only scratches the surface of these disorders, so please stay tuned and check out Speech Blubs regularly for more in-depth blogs regarding these subjects.

If there’s a topic you’d like to know more about, please reach out to us and we will get working on it! As always, if you feel like your child is exhibiting any signs or symptoms of these disorders, it’s important that you make an appointment with a speech-language pathologist as soon as possible to get a full evaluation.

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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All my life I have stayed away from including any words with an s or sh or ch when talking to anyone because I have a speech impediment and it would be embarrassing to have them know I can’t talk like everyone else can.I always wondered why I was affected that way and its always affected my social life.

Hi Richard, we hope you are doing well! Sending positive thoughts, you can do this!

It’s interesting to know that stuttering is a fairly common speech impediment to come by. I’m thinking about looking for a speech therapy center soon because my daughter has been having problems reading some nursery rhymes from the book that I bought for her. Maybe this is an early sign of a speech problem that would get worse if not taken seriously.

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