Being unable to communicate is not the only painful expense of a speech impediment. Sometimes speech impediments can cause kids to be bullied, leaving them feeling ostracized from their peers. The degrading experience of being teased and bullied in itself can also cause many mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and long-term self-esteem issues.
Megan was being teased by her classmates for her difficulty pronouncing the “r” sound. While this is one of the last sounds children can master, typically the “r” sound is learned by age 6 to 7. Megan is 9.
Instead of “r”, children with this difficulty will often substitute with “w”. For example, it is common for them to pronounce “Little Red Riding Hood” as “Widdle Wed Widing Hood”. Although many of us find this cute, some kids on the playground can be very cruel to other children like Megan with this speech impediment.
Why Is the “R” Sound So Difficult?
There are plenty of reasons why children like Megan struggle with the dreaded “r”; it is one of the most challenging sounds in the English language! Difficulty pronouncing this sound is what is known as rhotacism, a speech impediment. It was found that 12.9% of preschool-age children struggle with rhotacism.
But why exactly do so many children struggle with it? Here are a few reasons:
Abstract motor movements: It is difficult to see the tongue when saying the “r” sound, unlike many other speech sounds. For instance, for “b”, “p”, and “m” sounds, children can see that the sounds are made with their lips closed. And “t”, “d”, and “n”, children can see that the tongue should rest behind the top front teeth when making the sound. But with “r”, children are unable to visualize the position of the lips, tongue, and jaw (the articulators).
Different ways to make the “r” sound: There are a few different configurations for pronouncing “r”. There is the bunched “r” configuration where the tongue is bunched up with the tip down. The hump in the center of the tongue gently touches the hard palate. Then there is the retroflexed “r” where the tip of the tongue is facing upwards. These can be very complex for children to understand and learn!
Not only one “r” sound: When “r” is surrounded by vowel sounds, the r will sound different. For instance, the “r” in “hair” has a different sound than the “r” in “iron”. Then there are times “r” will act like a vowel itself. This is evident in examples like “feather”, “learn”, and “fur”.
Additionally, there are variations of the vocalic “r” that each requires different transitions from its preceding sound. For instance, “ar”, “ear”, “er”, “ire”, and “or” all require slightly different transitions from one articulation to another.
Some children may be able to pronounce some of these “r” sounds, but not others.
Children like Megan with “r” difficulties need to practice several different variations of the sound in different word positions to master the sound. This takes time and patience and is best done under the guidance of a speech-language pathologist.
Megan’s mother was dedicated to helping Megan conquer the sound after many futile attempts to help her daughter. Frustrated and unsure of how to help her daughter learn the sound, Megan’s mother reached out to one of our Rite Care Centers.
Megan began attending weekly sessions in late November. She works with our highly qualified SLPs to incorporate these new sounds into her speech. Once she can produce a sound in isolation, our SLP will encourage her to use the sound in words and sentences. Eventually, the SLP will have her introduce the new sound in conversation. This is not an easy task since Megan is trying to produce sounds she has never produced before!
But, Megan is already progressing with leaps and bounds and is responding well to our SLPs’ instructions. Megan gets introduced to new “r” words every session, as she continues to conquer the sound.
Difficult but Not Impossible!
The pressure to learn a new difficult sound may seem like an impossibility to some children. And with painful teasing coming from her classmates, Megan had an even more difficult journey. But with the help of our Rite Care Centers speech-language pathologists, Megan is slowly conquering that dreaded “r”. She exudes more confidence every day as she gets closer and closer to her goal. You see, it is difficult but not impossible!
But it is only with the help of generous donations that these services are possible. We want to thank our donors for the funding that keeps our Rite Care Centers running. This enables children like Megan to conquer their debilitating speech and language impairments.
You too can donate! It is easy, quick, and will make a world of difference in the life of a child.