Correcting Lisps and Vocalic R Can Be Stressful
…But it doesn’t need to be. If you’re tearing your hair out, wondering how to correct a lisp or how to correct vocalic r, please don’t stress anymore! Chances are, if you’re a speech language pathologist, you’re going to encounter lisps or vocalic /r/ errors. I don’t want you to experience the level of frustration I used to feel in this area. I have an articulation therapy game plan for you. The reason I have a game plan is because I needed one! Trust me, I’ve BEEN THERE. I’ve experienced the lisp and vocalic r headache, and I desperately searched for answers until I found them. Please, keep reading!
When Venita from the lovely Speechie Side Up Podcast reached out to me to ask if I’d be willing to share my favorite tips for SLPs about correcting vocalic /r/, I was super excited! We ended up chatting about more than that: I shared my favorite ways to tackle correcting a lisp and all those pesky vocalic /r/ sounds, but ALSO went in to great detail about I work on grammar and syntax in a systematical way. You can catch the episode here, and I highly recommend subscribing.
Correcting a Lisp
In case you missed it, I have a (free) video on TpT. In this video, I go into great detail about my exact approach (based on the phenomenal expertise/ research of Sandra Holtzman) for correcting a lisp. This is definitely a great one to bookmark.
It all started a few years ago, when I lucked out with the best Google search ever. I found out about Sandra Holtzman. She’s a Speech- Language Pathologist who is ALSO an orofacial myologist. I did some research on her website, then emailed her. I ended up taking her 28 hour continuing education course on orofacial myology. (This is NOT an affiliate link, I’m just sharing in case you are interested). Additionally, she has a “Myo Manual” on her website which you may find extremely helpful! Having a foundation in orofacial myology completely changed how I treated my lisp and vocalic /r/ students. It was a game changer for me.
Sandra shared her knowledge and experience with me, and the rest is history. I finally started seeing success with my students. It was amazing. I learned that patience is key. This isn’t something that’s going to take a few therapy sessions, and I want to really stress that.
To correct a lisp, I spend quite a bit of time establishing lingual positioning at rest. The tongue tip needs to be resting on the alveolar ridge. I explain this to my students as that “bumpy spot directly ABOVE the two front teeth”. The tongue shouldn’t be pushing against or through the teeth.
I also had never realized just how important it is to work on lingual coordination and strength before taking the OFM course. Think of it as a way to set the stage for success prior to beginning articulation therapy.
Once your student has mastered the required lingual movements, it’s time to focus on /s/ in isolation. The first approach is called the whispered /t/. This approach is exactly what it sounds like: my students understand that the tongue tip should be resting against the alveolar ridge at rest. Now, we work on controlled, whispered /t/ sounds. My student whispers the “t” sound, while the tongue tip gently taps the alveolar ridge. It’s controlled: we’re not moving that chin all over the place, and the air flow is nice and “straight”.
Sandra then recommends moving from the whispered /t/ to the long /t/. Your student graduates from the whispered /t/ by slowly adding a longer “stream” of controlled airflow to form the “long” /t/. The tongue tip remains on the alveolar ridge. It’s important that the chin stays still during production. You’ll understand why you spent so much time working on coordination, strength and lingual-mandibular differentiation when you get to the long /t/.
The next step? Use some co-articulation to get that /s/. If your student can say the long /t/, try some final /ts/ words. Words like hats, bats, and cats are perfect. Then, pair those words with /s/ in the initial position. Try saying things like “cats say hi”. See how that final /ts/ leads into /s/? When I model it, I don’t move my lingual positioning: we go right from cats to say as if they are joined together.
Correcting Vocalic R
Once again, Sandra saves the day. If you’re in need of some CEUs, I highly recommend this ceu course (again, not an affiliate link, just sharing in case you’re interested). I’m writing up a post about it, but you can earn hours and get TONS of detail when you take the course.
Don’t forget to check for things like ankyloglossia. Also, can your student move his lips freely (labial frenulum, or a “lip tie”)? Labial movement is very important.
Lingual coordination and strength again plays a role. Lingual-mandibular differentiation is also so important. In order words…can your student move his tongue separately from his mandible? Can his articulators move independently from one another? Lingual exercises help improve lingual shaping, coordination, and speed.
Get obsessed with vocalic /er/. I spend a looooong time here. It’s the starting point for success, and Sandra recommends that your student is able to say 100 perfect vocalic /er/ sounds in isolation before you move on to the next step. My favorite method to elicit this sound is to use a tongue depressor. I have my student smile with his teeth slightly apart. We gently lift the tongue up and back so it is touching the molars while we say “er”. You might have other ways to get this sound- do what works for you! I’m just sharing my “go to”. (Again… don’t expect this to take a few trials. I’ve spent up to TWO MONTHS here. Patience. Patience. Patience!)
Continue to be obsessed with vocalic /er/. Love it or hate it, this is really crucial. We spend time cycling through what I call “vocalic /er/ sandwiches”. We start with nonsense words and go through allllll the sounds/ blends. Sandra recommends starting with /h/. Your student will practice “erHer”, while NOT MOVING THE TONGUE, because you only need to breathe out that /h/. She then goes on to bilabials, etc. I spend an entire session on a focus area. That might mean 30 minutes of saying “erBer”. It’s important.
Annnnnnd yeah, more vocalic /er/…. this time you’d use real words as you cycle through in the same order. ErBER changes to Novem…BER. See what you did there? Sandra= genius.
Vocalic /er/ can be used to shape alllll the other vocalic /r/ sounds. For example, /rl/ (as in girl) is really just… ER+ L.
I hope this helps to give you a starting point. I’ll say it one more time: please remember, that patience is key. IT IS COMPLETELY POSSIBLE TO CORRECT VOCALIC R AND LISPS. If I can do it, so can you!