Automaticity – The Key to Articulation Therapy


When reflecting on the many courses I took in my academic career, there is one course that stands above the rest in terms of shaping me as a Speech Language Pathologist. Ironicaly it isn’t even a SLP specific course. Go figure. It was a course I took in “Cognitive Psychology” that had me write a paper 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, like writing or tying shoelaces. 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 and can be done simultaneously with other processes once learned or internalized. The key to the internalization of the process is repetition. Practicing the task over and over again until it becomes fluid, seemless and effortless. I remember struggling to write in the primary grades and hated doing it. Daily, I find myself writing homework notes by hand to parents and 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 doing many things at once in car effortlessly. Automaticity is a beautiful thing.
What does “attention and automaticity” have to do with articulation therapy? Everything! Each and every client I work with goes through a phase of being in their head and focusing on proper articulator placement during production of their target sound. Success does not occur until they can demonstrate the ability to produce their sound effortlessly in all contexts leading up to and including 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 in order to develop the motor planning necessary to play the music effectively. Automaticity is the key to success.
We have established that highly repetitive drills are critical in developing the automaticity of speech sound production. What exactly is high repetition therapy? When I first started treating clients ten years ago I thought that getting over a hundred repetitions during a half hour session was stellar. Two years ago I adjusted my therapy technique to maximize repetitions and can easily produce between four and five hundred repetitions in 15 minutes. I discovered I could get quicker results and be more effective by actually spending less time with the clients if the therapy was highly condensed and focused.
In closing high repetition drills in my opinion are the number one 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. 

Marcus Little