“My son cannot say the /r/ sound. He says /w/ for /r/. Is this typical? At what age should he be expected to have this sound?”

This is a question that parents frequently ask me. /r/ is one of the most difficult sounds to produce in the English language. It is a sound that requires strength and control of all articulators (e.g., jaw, tongue and lips). Some children have difficulty producing this sound because of low muscle tone in the oral musculature. When children have difficulty producing /r/, they may be more difficult to understand. /r/ occurs more frequently in the English language than most sounds. When you think about “The Wheel of Fortune”, /r/, /n/ and /t/ are the letters most contestants choose first because they are so frequently used in English words. When children distort this sound, their speech may sound immature to their peers and adults. Most children substitute /w/ for /r/; therefore “right” is pronounced “white”. Some children develop /r/ by the age of three but many do not develop it until 5 or 6 years of age. If your child is six years of age or older, you should consult a speech-language pathologist to determine if speech therapy is warranted. Many times children are stimulable for this sound, in which case, the therapist may be able to give you suggestions of home activities. If your child is not stimulable for the sound, therapy may be recommended.