One of the very first ways to improve intelligibility is to teach a child to use a slower speech rate. When children with articulation disorders use a fast speech rate, often times the number of omissions and sound substitutions increase, syllables are reduced and overall intelligibility is significantly affected. So, I take this part of therapy very seriously. In fact, there are times I have spent more time focusing on the use of slow rate than I have focusing on correct sound production.
Parents who are reading this, you can now see that when your child's SLP writes a goal for using a slow rate of speech it is for a very specific purpose. Please do not underestimate the power of slowing your own speech rate down and encouraging your child to do the same.
The million dollar question is of course, how do we change someone's speech rate? Below I outline 3 general steps I take to teach a child to use a slow rate of speech. I'm sure there are many other techniques and ideas you use out there. Feel free to share with us your techniques in the comments below.
3 Steps to Train the Use of a Slow Speech Rate:
1. Create Awareness: The very first thing I have to do is make the child aware that he/she is using a rate of speech and is too fast and explain WHY a slower speech rate is preferred. To do this first I have to demonstrate then teach the child to monitor my speech rate.
Demonstrate: I usually begin by giving a child directions very very quickly (so fast that the child cannot understand me) and look at them expectantly to perform the direction. Then I ask them why they aren't doing what I asked. For PK kiddos, usually they will look at me and just say "What?". I than ask them (slowly) "What, am I talking too fast?". Older kiddos can actually tell me I am talking too quickly for them. I will then restate the directive in a slow rate (slower rate than I typically use) and ask them if they understood me that time. Of course the answer is "yes". So, I go on to explain to them that because they talk very quickly, this is how they actually sound to others. The point: I'm trying to make a connection for the child between slow rate and increased understanding. I am demonstrating to them the rationale behind using slow rate of speech.
Monitor my speech rate: Then I take time (sometimes several sessions if I need to depending on the child's age, cognition level, and monitoring abilities) and have the child learn how to discriminate between a fast and slow rate of speech first in my speech and then (if I have access to using peers) in a peer's speech rate. This is ALL I will focus on during this time. THIS is the ONLY goal right now. I don't care about misarticulations, ALL I care about is training the child's auditory system to recognize a fast vs. slow rate. How do I do this? I can use any materials, books or games for this goal:
Books: I read books, and if the students are readers they can take turns reading books, and have the student label (thumbs up/down, using visuals for fast/slow rate, or even using a buzzer...my kids LOVE the use the Taboo buzzer and buzz me every time I'm using a fast rate) fast vs. slow rate of speech.
Games: Uno, Go Fish, Crazy 8s, ANY card games or board games will do. As the games get more exciting, I try to use a faster rate of speech to see if the student notices. Most times he/she does not at first and I have to show the child that just because we get excited doesn't mean we can increase our rate of speech.
In Play: Especially for younger kiddos, I try to pull out toys (Mr. Potato Head, Farm, doll house), etc. and spend time having them listen and monitor my speech rate in play.
Once the child can monitor fast/slow rates of speech in my utterances (and peers if I have them), we move on to step 2!
2. Practice what we preach: Now its time to have the student practice using a slow rate of speech. But in order to do this I need to make sure I ALWAYS use a slow rate of speech with this child b/c if I'm not using it and modeling it, why should he? I use the following to practice slow speech rate:
Over exaggeration: I begin by having the child practice slow rate in an over exaggerated manner for 2 reasons. 1) we get used to speaking slowly, 2) by the time we speed up to normal rate of speech it will feel "fast" compared to this over exaggerated slow rate making carryover more likely.
Rhythm: Sometimes kids struggle with carryover of slow rate so I move into rhythm exercises. So we may repeat rhymes or we may speak in a rhythm for entire sessions. What? Seems crazy? It's not! We are retraining the child's neurological process of speech rate so we are involving the left and right sides of the brain for this.
Tapping exercises: Tapping exercises are a nice way for me to transition kiddos from over exaggerated slow rate and using rhythm to speaking slowly but fluently in phrases and sentences. These exercises are very similar to teaching slow rate of speech for children with fluency disorders. I have several different kinds of visuals (e.g. road with stop signs, different colored boxes in a strip, etc.) that I use to have the child (and myself) tap out (at a slow rate) carrier phrases and sentences...followed by typical conversation.
If my student is doing it, so am I! This is a rule I follow consistently because I am ALWAYS modeling and cuing. So it only makes sense that if my student is using over exaggeration, rhythm or tapping...then so am I!
3. "Listen to myself": The last step is teaching the child to self monitor his own speech rate at word, phrase, sentence, reading (if a reader) than conversation level. I want to train the student to "listen to myself" where he provides feedback about his own speech rate throughout the session. This includes:
Using verbal cues
Using visual cues
Paying attention to listeners cues
Once the child can correct speech rate after my verbal/visual cues to slow down (~70% or greater), I move into focusing on misarticulations. I keep those visual cues around to sustain use of slow speech rate but I move my main focus on to sound production.
That's it! 3 steps (with a whole lot of mini-steps included) to make a slow speech rate a habit!