Developing automaticity -
the need for quicker speech therapy.

When reflecting on courses I took in my academic career, there is one course that stands above the rest. Ironically it isn’t even a SLP specific course. Go figure. The course was “Cognitive Psychology”.  I wrote a paper in this course on the concept of “attention and automaticity”. It was this paper above all else that has had the most influence on the articulation therapy that I do today.

What is the concept of “attention and automaticity”?

Automatic processes are tasks that people do without conscious control.

Examples would be tying shoelaces or the task of writing. Once a person has decided to write something, they no longer need to visualize and consciously control each motion. Automatic processes ultimately require little attention or awareness. They can be done simultaneously with other processes once learned and internalized. 

The key to the internalization of the process is repetition. Practicing the task over and over again until it becomes fluid, effortless and automatic. I remember struggling to write in the primary grades and hated doing it. Daily, I find myself writing homework notes by hand to parents. It is no longer a struggle (but I still hate doing it…).

Another example would be learning to drive a car. I remember learning to drive was overwhelming. This was especially true for learning to drive standard. 

Trying to keep track of the gas, brake and clutch coupled with rules of the road was initially quite a challenge. Now I find myself effortlessly driving as well as maintaining a conversation at the same time. Automaticity is a beautiful thing.

What does “attention and automaticity” have to do with articulation therapy? Everything! Each client I work with must initially focus on proper articulator placement. Those first productions are effortful and forced. Success does not occur until they can produce their sound effortlessly in conversation. 

The pathway to success is repetition coupled with speed. I like the music analogy the best. Anyone who has tried to learn the piano has been instructed to practice musical scales over and over. This is needed to develop the motor planning necessary to play the music effectively. Automaticity is the key to success.

Highly repetitive drills are critical in developing the automaticity of speech sound production.  

When I first started treating clients 19 years ago I would have told you 100 repetitions would be great for a 45 minute session. Now my clients will produce between five and six hundred repetitions in 15 minutes.

I found I could get quicker results and actually spend less time with the clients. This occurs if the therapy was highly condensed and focused.

In closing...

High repetition drills will develop automaticity of speech sounds sooner. In my opinion, they are the biggest thing you can do to accelerate the results of speech therapy. Learning how to ramp up the number of targeted repetitions will have a huge impact on the speed of your success.

About the Author

I am a Canadian Speech-Language Pathologist. My passion is helping children and adults achieve their speaking potential. Results come quicker when “an optimized” homework program is followed on a daily basis. Training parents, caregivers, tutors, educational assistants, teachers and volunteers is my top priority. The “Rapid Speech Therapy” method was born out of the necessity to provide an easy to use yet powerful way to develop speech sounds in the hands of the “non professional”.

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