My twin daughters received speech therapy at age 4 and it made a world of difference in their ability to be understood. When they graduated therapy after a few months, the therapist told me watch out (listen out?) for the development of their /r/s. She didn’t anticipate any issues, but told us that /r/ would be the next thing to look out for. Since English-speaking kids don’t typically develop the /r/ sound for several years, we might notice delays down the road. They had all their other consonants down, although M was still working on a lisp-free /s/.
Now that M and J are 7.5 years old, they’re at the age where I anticipated they’d start to have more adult like articulation. When they told me that friends at school were commenting on their accent—they’ve lived here in Texas all their lives—I thought a speech evaluation might be in order. They do odd things like pronounce “shorts” and “shirts” as homonyms, which causes much confusion when we’re getting dressed in the morning.
I contacted the school speech therapist and told her the girls’ history. She is usually called into evaluate kids by teachers, not parents, but she agreed to take a listen. If further evaluations were in order, she could file that paperwork. She was very professional and I appreciated the time and effort she took to set my expectations and explain her process. In her very first email to me, she wrote,
According to our eligibility guidelines, an English /r/ is not typically mastered (i.e. produced correctly by 90% of population) until age 7.5 (based on the Massachusetts Speech and Hearing Association Entrance and Exit Criteria Guidelines), so it would not be considered “significantly delayed” (which is the criteria for school-based therapy) until the age of 8.5 or 9. For Spanish /r/, the age of mastery is 5 for tap-r and 7 for /rr/. However, with the girls not being native Spanish speakers, we would not work on Spanish /rr/ in school-based therapy.
After some back and forth to give her official permission to talk to my girls, I received the following email.
I just pulled your girls for a brief conversation in the hallway after their TAG [Talented and Gifted] class. What charming children! So verbal. J has no noticeable sound errors, and M has a slight, developmentally-appropriate distortion of /r/. She is stimulable for /r/, which means that if you show her and tell her how to do it, she is able to be taught. I say, “Pull your lips back like you’re smiling, then pull your tongue waaaay back to the back of your mouth and say RRRRed.” With this type of instruction, she is able to approximate the /r/ sound. This means that she will likely acquire the sound on her own without intervention. At this point I would definitely say that there is nothing to worry about and you should be very proud of your lovely daughters.
Do I feel a little silly about having worried? Yes, I admit that I do . Still, I’m so glad I asked.
I did make a mistake, though. I failed to tell my girls that I’d contacted the speech therapist. When I asked J and M whether they’d enjoyed their chat with her, M told me that she was a little embarrassed. She was worried that I wasn’t proud of her speech. I told her that wasn’t it at all, that I had felt terrible about delaying her evaluation the first time around and that I just wanted an expert to tell me that everything was okay, which is exactly what happened. M was satisfied.
I was reminded that my children are getting older and I need to be ever more transparent about how I advocate for them and talk to them about what I’m thinking and planning.
“She’s so nice,” J volunteered about the speech therapist. “And very beautiful.”
Speech delays are more common with multiples that singletons. A review of studies on the subject indicates that prematurity plays a role in this. A bigger contributor is likely the social realities of being a twin. Twins get less time one-on-one with mom than comparable singletons. Instead, they spend time talking to mom and their twin at the same time. I’ve certainly observed my pair encouraging each other’s speech quirks… like the period a couple of months ago where they were convinced that “velvet” was a colour, what I would call burgundy. I actually had to pull out the dictionary to get them to realize that no one else had any idea what they were talking about.
If you’re wondering about your own child or children’s speech development and how it compares to a typical kid’s, Katie over at Playing with Words 365 has written a clear and complete article describing the range of typical articulation development in English-speaking children.
Have you ever had your children evaluated for their speech development? Been concerned that something might be wrong only to find that everything is fine?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.