Treating tricky /r/ errors? Start with ultrasound visual biofeedback

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Every SLP has a bag of tricks for treating persistent /r/ errors. Increasingly, that might include high-tech visual biofeedback tools like ultrasound that allow children to see what their articulators are doing in real time. We’ve talked before about ultrasound as an up-and-coming tool to target speech production, and a new study gives us more evidence that it works.

The study looked at traditional vs. ultrasound visual biofeedback treatment for vocalic /r/ errors in older children (age 9–14). One group of children did 8 ultrasound sessions and then 8 traditional sessions, and the other group did the opposite. In both types of session, the SLP used the usual techniques (shaping, modeling, feedback), but in the ultrasound sessions, children could place the ultrasound under their chin to view their tongue placement.

Nine of the 12 children improved their /r/ productions following treatment. Traditional and ultrasound treatment both worked, but ultrasound treatment worked a little better, and children who had ultrasound treatment first did slightly better than those who had traditional treatment first.

This study tells us that ultrasound visual biofeedback treatment can help with persistent /r/ errors for most children. It also suggests that, instead of using ultrasound as a last resort, it might be better to start with ultrasound practice, giving children detailed feedback and establishing a good production.

Also—this systematic review of ultrasound studies for speech was recently published as well! It doesn’t include the newest studies (like the one, above), but overall the take-home is that ultrasound is an emerging technique (needs more evidence) with some promising results. Especially for, “…individuals whose speech errors persist despite previous intervention.”

Editor’s Note: Are you wondering, “Who has access to ultrasound equipment for speech?!” Many private practices and schools ARE starting to get this equipment! We wouldn’t cover this research yet if they weren’t. Expand the comments, below, and share your experiences with us, so we can all get a feel for what implementation is looking like.

 

Preston, J. L., McAllister, T., Phillips, E., Boyce, S., Tiede, M., Kim, J. S., & Whalen, D. H. (2019). Remediating residual rhotic errors with traditional and ultrasound-enhanced treatment: A single-case experimental study. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2019_AJSLP-18-0261.

Sugden, E., Lloyd, S., Lam, J., & Cleland, J. (2019). Systematic review of ultrasound visual biofeedback in intervention for speech sound disorders. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. doi: 10.1111/1460-6984.12478.