One of my favorite ways to teach /t/ when errors are particularly stubborn is to use sound shaping from /p/. While for a lot of kids, sitting side by side in front of a mirror and showing them how you lift your tongue to the alveolar ridge, or gums right behind your upper teeth, can be enough to get them started, for some kids, any time they hear you model a /t/, it triggers their error pattern so imitation of /t/ is too advanced to get them started with correct productions. This is why I love sound shaping, because it allows you to take something they can do and use it to teach the new behavior.
What you need:
- A child who can produce /p/
- a mirror
Start off by having the child produce the /p/ sound a few times as an imitation game, where you say it first and they say it after you. Praise them each time for their great /p/ sound, and how well they made the sound with their top and bottom lip!
Then tell them, “Now we’re going to make a silly /p/ sound.” And show them a /p/ sound with your tongue in between your lips. Then ask them to make the sound the same way. Praise them if they’re able to do this. If they’re having a hard time and not able to feel if their tongue is in between their lips, show them in the mirror how you do it and let them watch as they do it too.
Next, tell them “now we’re going to make the silly /p/ sound with our tongue and only our top lip.” Show them how, when you open your mouth, you can still lift up your tongue to make the “silly p” against the top lip. Let them try this a few times and praise them as they make this sound.
After that, tell them you’re going to make the “silly /p/” with your tongue and your top teeth. Show them how you lift your tongue and produce this sound. At this point, we’re effectively producing a dentalized /t/ production, but the trick is that we’re still calling it “p” and we’ve worked our way up to this point. Kids are going along with you and most don’t catch on that it doesn’t sound like /p/ anymore. (For older kids you can take them through the same sequence of oral motor movements and shaping starting from /p/, I just don’t typically call this a “silly p” I say it’s a /p/ with their tongue and their teeth, etc).
After a few repetitions of this tongue tip to upper teeth production, you can say, “Now make the /p/ sound with your tongue behind your teeth” and model an accurate /t/ production. With a little luck, if kids have been successful with each step of the process, they’re able to produce /t/ at this stage. If so, great! Praise it and get another 10 repetitions to start stabilizing. If hearing a correct /t/ triggers the error pattern, recast by saying, “Oops! Remember, we’re making a silly /p/ sound, let’s try it again against your top lip.” Back track a few steps in the sound shaping process and get a few extra successful repetitions before attempting the correct placement again.
While this may sound like a strange way to teach /t/, believe me, it can be so quickly successful for hard to switch substitution errors, or errors in placement. I’ve seen teenagers who haven’t been able to break a habit for incorrect /t/ productions and who have been completely unstimulable using placement cues alone finally able to learn how to produce the sound using this technique over the span of about 5 to 10 minutes.
Once you have the correct tip alveolar placement and can reinforce a bunch of repetitions, then you can let kids know what you’ve been working on. Try some syllables, segmented first then blended together, and see if they’re able to maintain the correct placement. After they’re able to produce the sound in syllables, they’re ready for words!
If you’d like a free word list of /t/ targets, check out our resources page!