When to Treat Later-Developing Sounds

By Pam Marshalla

Q: At what age should my school speech therapist begin working on my son’s “R” sound? Would you address it before “S,” “Z,” and “Th”? When do you address these errors? Do missing teeth affect the decision making in this process at all?

Yours is a very simple yet complicated question.

First, these are what we call “later-developing sounds.” When a child has errors on these sounds, most SLP’s in the public schools wait until the kids are 7, 8, or even 9 years of age. They could see them earlier, but many children outgrow these errors on their own, so they wait. How old a child needs to be before he is enrolled in therapy usually is a district-wide decision. The school therapists have to follow whatever the district policy is.

Second, in terms of which sounds to work on first, second, third… That always is up to the individual therapist as he/she determines what seems best for your particular child. One child will learn R first, another Sh, and so forth. It depends on the individual child’s “readiness” for change.

Third, missing teeth do not affect our work on R. But they do effect the others. The front teeth must be present for the air to strike against during production of S, Z, Sh, Zh, CH, and J. Missing teeth is one reason that many SLP’s wait to work on these sounds. If the teeth are permanently missing, therapists teach children to compensate for them by producing these sounds in a slightly different way.

Finally, most therapists in private practice would be glad to see your child right away.

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