Celebrating Better Hearing & Speech Month
May is a month of many celebrations. Cinco de Mayo. Mother’s Day. Memorial Day. National Blueberry Cheesecake Day (May 26, the internet says so!). If one were looking for yet another reason to celebrate, May is also Better Hearing and Speech Month. For Speech-Language Pathologists, this is a month when we bring awareness to communication disorders and the people who treat them. Within Rockford Public Schools, our team of more than 60 speech-language pathologists diagnose and treat speech and language disorders in students who are just entering preschool all the way up through high school. Diagnoses are as varied and unique as the students themselves.
Speech and language therapy traditionally uses a hierarchical process that begins with teaching a skill in its most isolated form, then adding a layer of complexity once the student has mastered the set objective. In articulation therapy, this would mean teaching a student how to produce a sound, then teaching them that same sound in a word, then sentences, and eventually conversations. It’s a building block method to treating speech sound disorders.
But, as with many areas in life, there’s more than one way to solve a problem.
Complexity approach, explained by former linguistics professor and researcher Judith Gierut, is a therapy technique used for children whose speech intelligibility is far behind other children their age. This method of treatment bypasses some of the building block steps and jumps right in to work on teaching most challenging sounds. As an example, a speech pathologist might target complex clusters (as in the word 'scrape') rather than single sounds (as in 'say'). By teaching these complex cluster sounds using maximal contrasts, the child learns the motoric placement of earlier developing sounds that share similar phonemic qualities. The motor patterns learned in one skill will generalize to the other, helping a child to make system-wide changes within their speech. Though initially more challenging, a complexity approach leads many children to faster intelligible speech.
The 2021-2022 school year has been complexity theory played out in real life. Staff and students jumped into the complex, instead of tackling the usual beginning of school year building blocks. We fast-tracked to make up for lost learning and teaching time. We relearned social language skills after a year of isolating and distancing. We practiced listening carefully as masks reduced signal-to-noise ratios. We used extra efforts to communicate clearly and for our voices to be heard.
It’s been a year. But, if the complexity approach holds true, we’ve done the hard work, made strong connections, and progressed faster than if we hadn’t pushed forward into the challenge.
And that’s yet another reason to celebrate this May.
Johnna Bainter and Christine Morelock
Johnna Bainter is a speech-language pathologist with Rockford Public Schools. She works at Summerdale Early Childhood Center.
Christine Morelock is a speech-language pathologist with Rockford Public Schools. She works at Nashold Early Childhood Center.
- Educator News