So your kid needs a speech therapist – what happens next?

So your kid needs a speech therapist – what happens next?

WHY YOU ARE THE KEY PLAYER IN YOUR CHILD’S THERAPY

When speech and language therapists put together a therapy program for your child, their decision will be informed by a few things: the age of your child, their main mode of communication, their understanding levels, how much language they have, what speech sounds they have and what communication skills they most need to function socially and academically. Moreover, there is one more very important factor that will be taken in to account: What the evidence says about the recommended therapy. Using research to inform decisions in therapy is crucial to ensure that your child has the best chance of reaching their goals. Therapy programs that encourage joint working between parent and therapist are known to provide better outcomes for the child.  Including parents as active participants rather than observers of therapy programs is often the approach taken in the early years.

So, after seeking out support and perhaps obtaining an evaluation, you and your child may have been offered guidance by a speech and language therapist rather than 1.1. therapy sessions. Not all speech and language therapy is given by these 1:1 therapy sessions.

Why not just 1:1 sessions?

Here are some things that may have guided your speech and language therapist’s decision making:

  • The research indicates that most of the learning children undergo happens incidentally i.e. by listening to the world around them. Around 98 percent of the words that your child knows will be words that are found in your own vocabulary! (Hart and Risley 2003). So, when it comes to language development, you are the biggest contributor to your child’s language and working with your is crucial!

 

  • Guiding and supporting parents in the enrichment of their child’s communication skills is thought to provide long lasting results. Following a parent/child interaction program (Russ & Niec, 2011) found that the improvements in communication were still noticeable two years post therapy. So, signing up to a program and seeing it through, is not just a quick fix, but an investment in your child’s communication for the longer term.

Put simply, when parents fully engage with their children, communication skills improve (Roberts, M and Kaiser, A 2011). Working with a speech and language therapist to help you fine tune your interaction skills and offer support where needed, is a sure way to achieve positive results!

 

Speech and language therapy, your child and you!

What will I learn from following a tailored program?

More comments, less questions!

Questions are important and can help children to develop their understanding, however, we often ask too many questions! We are trained to ask questions to fill silent gaps. So, this strategy will take some planning and practice.

Why?

Speech and language therapists will encourage you to comment more. Commenting on your child’s play takes the pressure away from them and they will be more likely to provide you with spontaneous language. In addition, by commenting on what your child is doing, you are giving them the opportunity to listen to lots of language. The more language a child hears, the more likely they are to use new words., so this strategy is very effective

Recast!

Repeating what your child says but adding new words to expand the sentence and make it more grammatically correct.

Why?

Provides strong language examples. Children will get a chance to hear words that they miss out e.g. ‘is’. Remember, the more a child hears, the more they are likely to learn!

Use gesture!

We all use some gesture when we speak. 50 percent of communication involves some sort of nonverbal communication. You may point to something, or use the iconic gesture e.g. holding your hands in the shape of ball while you say ‘ball’ Using gestures every day can provide positive communication exchanges between you and your child.

Why?

Gesture has immense value when it comes to highlighting key words for children to learn. Children learn by listening and by watching and they will associate what they hear with what has been shown/signed/pointed to. Teaching your child to gesture before they can use words will also benefit their language development. Children who use gesture at a young age e.g. point to request something, will have larger vocabularies later in life (Hanen 2016)

Follow your child’s lead!

This means, letting them choose the toy they want to play with and following what they want to do with the toy. This can be hard at first as its natural to want to lead the play in order to support specific skills. Following what your child wants to do can be a strategy that suddenly opens up their communication.

Why?

Following your child’s lead shows them you are interested in what they are interested in and it takes the pressure away from them to respond to an adult led activity. As this can then make them feel more relaxed, they will be more likely to engage and attention levels will increase. Commenting on what your child is doing while they are exploring toys and games, again provides some great listening practice.

Using simple language

When children are learning language, the amount of information they can process will vary. It can be useful to break down longer sentences in to short phrases or pause before adding in more information. Many speech and language therapists will also teach you how to use information carrying words, so the language load is aimed at your child’s level of understanding. As ICWs are words that carry information, focusing on them raises your awareness to how much information you are giving your child E.G. ‘the cat’ (when shown a picture of a cat and dog, is asking your child to listen to one piece of information ‘cat’. ‘The big cat’ when shown a picture of big and small cats and dogs, is asking your child to listen for two key words (big and cat) to choose the right picture. We have a full article on this and a FREE 10 part email language course you can sign up.

Why?

Making language simple can greatly increase the likelihood that your child will be successful in following your instruction. Keeping sentences short and using key words allows you to see how much your child is understanding and therefore add in more words slowly as your gradually support their language understanding.

Use rhymes and songs

Using rhyme and song is a great way to have fun with your child whilst also optimizing their learning of new words. See our time to rhyme and sing article. You can try singing the same songs over and over or missing out a word and seeing if your child can fill in the gap.

Why?

When children hear a word repeatedly or in many different situations and contexts, learning the word becomes much easier. Rhyming also helps children learn about the structure of words, identifying what words start with the same sounds or end with the same sounds can also help literacy skills (Goswami,1986, 1988)

Share a book

Books provide repetitive language, picture support and introduce your child to new words. Reading can be a fun daily activity. If your child is interested in a story they will be more likely to learn some of the words from that story.

Why?

Listening to stories is another way for your child to meet their listening quota!  The more words they listen to, the more they will use! Spending some focused time reading, commenting on the story and responding to your child’s questions is a great way to up their language! As well as increasing your child’s exposure to words, reading to your child daily will have a positive impact on their literacy levels (Read On. Get On.” report published by Save the Children)

 

DID YOU KNOW?…………………

You are your child’s best teacher?

When parents are given guidance to work on their child’s language via a program rather than offered 1:1 therapy the results are positive! Following a review of 18 different parent child interaction programs, improvements in understanding, language, gesture, vocabulary and grammar were all documented (Roberts and Kaiser 2011)

In fact, once given guidance and support, parents were found to have even more of a positive influence on their child’s communication skills than a speech and language therapist!

If you are worried about your child’s communication skills and feel they would benefit from some focused support, it is always worth contacting your local speech and language therapist for an assessment or advice. There are a few different parent child interaction programs available. For more information on what Iris Speaks has to offer, click here.

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

Related articles

FREE language programme

Our 2 top books for developing language skills

7 reasons why short, simple sentences are best for language development 

Roberts, M., & Kaiser, A. (2011). The Effectiveness of Parent-Implemented Language Intervention: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Speech-Langage Pathologie20, 180-199

Hurray for Play! From 0-3 years and how it aids language development

Hurray for Play! From 0-3 years and how it aids language development

Hurray for play!

Play has been likened to a fertiliser that nourishes the brain ‘with the behavioural equivalent of miracle Gro’ (John Medina 2008).  Play facilitates learning, encourages creativity and imagination, supports and develops our memory, language, social skills, problem solving ability and much more!

Play is the ‘work of childhood’ (Fred Rogers). As children learn about their world through play, understanding how it develops and how we can support it, is crucial.  Entering a child’s world, requires that we meet them at their developmental stage of play. By doing this we will have a good chance of encouraging them to listen and watch, explore and imitate.

State of play

You are being watched! All the time. As your child’s most influential teacher, they will be watching and learning from you continuously. When we play with children, they watch and learn, learn learn!  We play from the moment we are born, and we continue to play in to adulthood. The way we play throughout these stages is however very different and children will pass through distinct play stages from infancy to preschool age.

Let’s take a look at this journey.

Exploratory play. From birth.

From the very first stages of life, children learn about the world using their senses. Did you know that the lips are one of the most sensitive areas of the body? The lips have many receptor cells that send information to the brain. It is no wonder then that children who are just starting to learn about their world, will play by putting objects to their mouths and in their mouths. Exploring objects this way helps children learn about their features and uses. Each time they explore, they will learn something new and keep adding to this information store for later use. It will eventually help them name items using language.

Encouraging play at this stage

Having everyday objects around as well as toys is a useful way to encourage this learning.  Slowly children will learn about how to use objects appropriately. Try giving your child a spare cup, spoon or toothbrush to play with when you are carrying out real activities using these objects.

This is also the stage where your child will be looking at you to exchange smiles with you and play with sounds. As your child learns that their actions receive a reaction from you they will be encouraged to play more.

Exploratory play doesn’t stop here. It will continue throughout the preschool years as your child is introduced to new objects and new functions, although rather than putting things in their mouths, they will be more likely to discover things with their hands!

Play at 9 months

Children will start to use the information they learned from exploring objects and will begin to show you that they know how to use them! Your clever little cookie may pretend to brush their hair with a hair brush or put a toothbrush to their teeth.

Encouraging play at this stage

Continuing to demonstrate the uses of everyday objects will support your child during this stage. Try making a ‘treasure chest’ filled with useful things. What can they find? Take your time to explore what’s inside.

This stage of play provides some good opportunities to develop language as your child may start to act out events. Using repetitive phrases such as ‘brush dolly’s hair’ or ‘give teddy the cup’ will expose your child to the same language over and over as they play.

Play at 18 months

Your child’s play is really developing and evolving now. They will start to understand that one object can represent another object e.g. a miniature spoon represents a real spoon.  They have been busy bees and all that important playing has helped them reach this significant point. Understanding that one thing can represent another thing is key for learning language, as we use words to represent objects. Your child is beginning to master something complex!

If you have ever wondered why a speech and language therapist looks at how your child plays with objects and toys, this is why! Play can tell us a lot about where your child is on their language journey. Often, if there is a delay in play, there is a delay in language. Supporting and moving on your child’s ability to play therefore helps build the foundations required for language.

Encouraging play at this stage

You can help your child to learn that one object represents another by:

  • Playing with real objects and then introducing a miniature version (from a doll house set). You can model what you do with these objects e.g. brush teeth, drink from a cup
  • Play with teddies and dolls using these objects e.g. feed dolly
  • Play matching games. Have a bag of big and small matching objects. Take them out one by one and try and match them.
  • You can also try this with a picture of the object and the real object. Use a feely bag. What can you feel? Does it match the picture? You can use real photos of things that your child uses or generic pictures.
2.5 years Acting out!

Through play, your child will now likely be showing you how they understand the world around them. They will be using their toys, teddies and dolls to act out sequences that they have grasped from watching, playing and doing e.g. giving teddy his milk and putting him to bed. Acting out these sequences is crucial for later when your child will tell you stories.

Encouraging play at this stage

You can help your child at this stage but acting out the sequences with them. Use familiar toys and clear language e.g. ‘Dolly is eating breakfast, now she is getting dressed’.

You can help your child to structure these ideas but using words like ‘first, second, third’ or ‘Now and next’. Make up sequences containing two steps and see if your child can copy you or do their own.

3 years

Your child has come a long way since the stage of exploration and mouthing objects! They can now use their imaginations and act out short sequences and pretend to be different people e.g. doctor, nurse, fireman. This sort of play will further help them expand on their world knowledge and support their understanding of other people’s emotional states.

Encouraging play at this stage

Encourage this sort of play by using fancy dress. Pretend to be different people and create scenarios where your child may have to think about how someone feels e.g. taking on the role of a doctor to help a patient who is unwell or a vet who is helping a scared animal.

Your child’s play skills will continue to develop and evolve now as they mature to school age and onwards.

Learn to play, play to learn!

Playing allows children to explore and learn about their world, it powers the imagination and boosts their creativity. As your child’s best teacher and first playmate you have an amazing role in spurring on all these skills.  Each stage of play is dependent on the stage before and in each stage, they are learning something crucial that will help them navigate their world.

We learn best when we are having fun, so it makes perfect sense that learning is so rapid in these early years!

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children’s Speech and Language Therapist

Related articles:

New Sparkle programme for 1-3 year olds – language booster

How to use rhyme and songs for language – tips from a therapist

Laurel and Yanny – what it reveals about the listening process for children

 

 

5 Reasons YOU are your child’s best Speech Therapist

5 Reasons YOU are your child’s best Speech Therapist

5 Reasons YOU are your child’s best Speech and Language Therapist

Speech and Language Therapists are keen to get parents involved in the therapy process, but is this just a cop-out to avoid doing the work themselves?  Yes, it can be tricky to convince a child to practice their new words with you (and most likely the last thing you want to do) when you’ve just spent 20 minutes convincing them to eat one green bean.  But there are really good reasons therapists want you to be closely involved:

  1. You know your child best

You experience their ups and downs.  You know what really motivates them, and what really frustrates them.  You’ve been through it all with them.  But don’t just take your own word for it, research has been carried out which shows that parent’s opinions and questionnaires about their child’s language skills, are as accurate as some of the tests Speech and Language therapists do to measure language abilities (Dale 1991).

  1. You can practice communication ‘in the moment’

What’s the point in learning how to say ‘more cake’ unless there’s a real cake on offer?  Why practice listening to items to pack in a school bag if it’s not actually time for school?  Plus there’s limited realistic opportunities to practice signing ‘hello’ in a therapy session, but countless times throughout a day.  You can see why some children are perplexed by the activities they may be asked to carry out in a therapy session, even though the parent and therapist know there is a clear reason behind them!  But you can incorporate your child’s communication targets into everyday activities.

  1. You can personalise your child’s therapy

So your child just got a trampoline for their birthday?  Let’s take the therapy outside!  The cartoon character they loved last week has been replaced by a new favourite?  No problem, they can practice clapping out that name instead!  A therapist can give you pointers as to what kinds of activities to carry out, into which you can then incorporate your child’s interests.

  1. Your child gets more therapy sessions

Imagine being able to give your child access to Speech and Language Therapy for most of their waking hours, or one hour a week.  Which option would you pick?  Let’s add in to that scenario that the one hour a week could be at a time when you’re child’s just woken up from a nap, so are grouchy, or maybe they’re so focused on the toy shop you walked past on the way to the session, they aren’t listening to the therapist…  Training you up as the therapist means that you can provide therapy to your child on a daily, even hourly basis, and you can keep activities short and sweet because you know there will be other chances that same day.

  1. It might just make things easier for you…

Let’s be a little selfish here, and also return to point number one.  Who does your child talk to most often, and therefore who needs to understand them when they talk the most?  You!  Who might also be most needing the tips and tricks to work out what children mean when they are having difficulties communicating?  Or need the strategies to manage conflicts raised by the social communication difficulties?  By building your skills as therapist, learning some of those little tricks and strategies, you will help both of you enjoy the time you spend together.  And that’s what it’s all about… just promise to share with us teachers and therapists what you learn about what helps your child!

If you’d like to find out more about how you can help your child – check out our SPARKLE course

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

Related articles

How to tell if my child has a speech or language issue

How can I help my child’s speech – some practical takeaways

What is verbal dyspraxia?

Lost Voice Guy – more about the communication aid he uses and what they are

Lost Voice Guy – more about the communication aid he uses and what they are

Lost Voice Guy

Lee Ridley, known as ‘Lost Voice Guy’, is the first comedian to win Britain’s Got Talent… and also the first communication aid user to win!  Lost Voice Guy may not “speak”, but he certainly has a voice –  sharing his experiences of cerebral palsy and communication aid use in his comedy, and discussing the representation of disabled people in the media.

This may be one of the first times you’ve seen a communication aid used by someone in the public eye – apart from Stephen Hawking.  Lee Ridley’s BBC Radio 4 sitcom ‘Ability’ amusingly shows just how frequently he hears that comparison, as people’s only cultural reference point for someone who uses a communication aid.  You might therefore be surprised that around one in two hundred people use some form of aid to help them communicate (also called “augmentative and alternative communication”, or AAC) (Blackstone 1990).   Lee Ridley, and American sitcom “Speechless”, may be the first tentative steps towards more accurate media representation.

 

 

Apart from Lost Voice Guy who needs a communication aid, and why?

Communication aids, or AAC, are used by children and adults who have difficulty using spoken language (and sometimes with understanding language too) for a wide range of reasons.  Some will have needed additional methods of communication from childhood, such as those with cerebral palsy, autism, or many other developmental or learning disabilities.  Others may need to use additional methods to communicate following a brain injury, stroke, cancer, or a neurological disease such as Motor Neurone Disease.  These are just some of the causes of communication difficulties, and having one of these diagnoses does not mean that person will definitely require a communication aid.

The potential power of a communication aid is immense:

“My aid has enabled me to live independently in my own home, employ my own care staff, set up my own business (self-employed), earn enough to come off means-tested benefits, earn enough to buy my next new AAC device soon.”

Scope’s “No voice, no choice” Communication Aids Survey respondent, 2007

 

Always so technologically advanced?

Not at all… AAC, or communication aids, are anything ‘extra’ that helps communication.

We don’t just communicate using spoken words.  Watch just a few of Lost Voice Guy’s videos  and you’ll see a wealth of facial expressions, gestures, not to mention comic timing.  All this would be lost if you were just listening to the voice synthesiser only.  Communication aids are frequently used alongside speech, gestures or signing.  Speech and Language Therapists sometimes refer to this as ‘total communication’, supporting the person to use a wide range of communication methods to get their message across in the best way possible for the person and situation.  In the BGT final, Lost Voice Guy made a joke out of how cumbersome communication aid use can be, by typing a response ‘good’ to David Walliams over the course of a comic 20 seconds (complete with ‘thinking’ pause and gesture).  Sometimes a simple ‘thumbs up’ is all that’s needed to get the message across!

A communication aid may consist of:

  • a gesture or signing system (such as Makaton or BSL, see our article for more info this area)
  • a symbol or picture-based system, mounted on a board, or in a book
  • alphabet or word boards or books
  • typing based systems (such as the Lightwriter system used by Lee Ridley)
  • A mix of some or all of the above!

 

MyChoicePad

MyChoicePad uses Makaton sign language and symbols

Lightwriter

This is the Lightwriter system used by Lee

 

Communication aids can be controlled by pointing, using a keyboard or switches, or even small head or eye movements.  A person’s literacy skills and physical skills will be taken into account when considering what methods of communication will work best for them.

This clip shows the teens from sitcom “Speechless” demo-ing two different types (pointing with a headlight to a word board for someone to read vs. a computer system operated by eye movements), and discussing some of the pros and cons of different communication aids.

As personal as any method of communication

The way we talk is highly individual – from our accent and tone of voice, to the words, phrases and expressions we commonly use.  A communication aid should be as personal as this – an adult communication aid user will need a very different vocabulary to a child so they can join in with social chit-chat (“Kanye West” being a crucial omission from Lee Ridley’s http://lostvoiceguy.com/radioshowreel/), before you consider the specialised vocabulary an adult communication aid user might need in the workplace.

An accent is also a highly personal thing, Stephen Hawking was reluctant to change his when technological advances made it possible, saying “It has become my trademark and I wouldn’t change it for a more natural voice with a British accent.”  However, Lee Ridley is not as attached to his, saying he’s going to spend some of his winnings on a Geordie accent for his communication aid so he doesn’t sound like ‘a posh version of Robocop’.

If this blog has inspired you to find out more about AAC, you could start by reading some of the personal experiences of using AAC here: http://www.everyonecommunicates.org/stories/individualstories.html

But let’s leave the last word to Lost Voice Guy.  Whilst this article celebrates the empowering nature of communication aids, the communication aid is not the star of this story, it’s Lee Ridley and his hilarious comedy:

“When I am performing, it’s as if I have finally found my voice – and it’s a great feeling making people laugh.”

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

Related articles

Will using sign language impact my children’s ability to learn words?

12 YouTube videos for teaching speech, language and communications skills

Does my child have a speech or language issue?

 

7 reasons why short, simple sentences are best for language development

7 reasons why short, simple sentences are best for language development

Simplifying language

The language we use when we chat is complicated.  We don’t mean to, us adults just can’t help saying things in a more difficult way than we need to.

There’s an example: I could have said above “Adults use complex language”.  Instead of being clear and simple, I said the same sentence in two different ways, used a lot of emphasising phrases, and tricky grammar.  In fact, there were only three important words in that sentence in order for you to understand the gist of it – ‘adults’, ‘complex’, ‘language’.

Keeping language simple can help children understand and learn language.

Top 7 reasons short, simple sentences are the best – simplifying language

There are many reasons, short, simple sentences help our children:

simplfying language

  • My span of attention is short! If there is too much language before you get to the ‘point’, I’ve lost interest and moved on
  • When you say a sentence, I have to listen to lots of words and work out which bit of noise (word) matches the picture or toy you are talking to me about. The more words you say, the harder it is to work out which one means the same as this stripy animal (picture of a child looking at a zebra).
  • My understanding develops gradually. At two years old, I may only be able to understand two key words in a sentence at a time (see our language course for more information and games).  Don’t make all your sentences just two words long though – keep reading for why you should still include the grammatical words!
  • My memory is also still developing. If there’s too much language for me to remember in your sentence, I can’t understand it (or if you’ve given me an instruction, I can’t follow it)
  • Repetition helps me learn. If you’re using simple sentences, you are most likely to be using similar words or sentence structures each time (e.g. ‘the frog jumped’, ‘Sarah laughed’, ‘the cat miaowed’), and I will pick up on these patterns.
  • Silence is powerful. It gives me time to focus my own attention, think about what you’ve said, and think of what I can say back.
  • If we both have short turns, it’s more likely we’ll be taking equal turns, which leads to a more fun chat for both of us!

Here are some examples of instructions and information simplified to two different levels:

Tricky Why’s this hard? Medium Simpler
“You can’t have any ice-cream until you finish your peas” This sentence is actually made up of two parts, ‘you can’t have any ice-cream’, ‘you finish your peas’, joined with the connective ‘until’.  This increases both the memory load, and the grammatical complexity of the sentence.  The time concept ‘until’ is also difficult for young children to understand “Eat your peas, then you can have ice-cream” “Peas first, then ice-cream”

Or “Eat your peas”

“Make sure your library book is in your bag” If the book and bag aren’t right in front of your child, they have to remember two pieces of information for the time it takes to look for both items.  There’s a high chance they will get distracted, or forget one of the items. “Put your book in your bag” “Get your book” (pointing to the location of the book, then wait for your child to get the book).

“Find your bag”

“Put your book in the bag” (when both the book and the bag are in front of your child)

 

“Brush your teeth after you put your pyjama’s on”

 

In these examples the two steps in the instruction are actually in reverse order – you want the child to put their pyjama’s on first, then brush their teeth.  Watch out when using ‘before’ and ‘after’ with very young children. “Put your pyjamas on then brush your teeth” “Put your pyjamas on”

“Brush your teeth”

 

 

“Come on, hurry up and get your shoes on” Saying the same thing in 3 different ways gives your child three pieces of information to process.  If you need to repeat, say the same simple sentence again. “Get your shoes on” “Shoes on!”
“Oh no, the boy is being chased by the monster!”

 

 

This is a passive structure – look out for a ‘by’ sentence telling you who did the action.  Children are thought to understand these sentences around age 3-4 (Thatcher et al 2008). “The monster is chasing the boy!” “A monster!”

“A scary monster!”

“Poor boy!”

 

You don’t want to keep your language simple forever, take the lead from your child and use sentences that are a couple of words longer, or a bit more complex, than they are using themselves.  If they are chatting away, having conversations or telling you about what happened today at nursery or school, chat back!

Simple, but keep the grammar!

Keep your sentences grammatical.  Your child is learning language from you, so if you give them examples which do not contain the grammar they will eventually learn, you are not doing them any favours!  For example, it might be tempting for a child who is starting to join two words together who points to your face and says ‘glasses’ to model back ‘mummy glasses’, but this way your child is missing out on the grammatical information that helps them understand why the two words are used together – ‘they’re mummy’s glasses’ (Fey et al 2003).

Children have been found to listen out for the words we naturally stress in sentences to make sense of them and learn language.  If we take out the grammatical words, which will be less stressed (e.g. ‘they’re’ in the above example), we are left with two words only.  Your child will listen to which of these is most stressed and focus on this, so they may only focus on one word (Bedore and Leonard 1995).  Having the grammatical words around them makes the content words stand out even more!

Children also use the entire sentence structure to help them work out the role of a new word in the sentence, for example whether it is a key word or a grammatical word, whether it is the name of something or an action (Venker et al 2017 provide useful information on this).  As adults, the best thing we can do to help this language learning process is keep our sentences short but grammatical so our children can use their natural language learning strategies.

Venker et al 2017, “When Is Simplified too…Simple?”, available at https://leader.pubs.asha.org/article.aspx?articleid=2595617

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

Related articles:

Language Skills course (FREE)

Will sign language affect my child’s ability to speak?

Iris Speaks Top 5 Language Apps 

 

 

Laurel or Yanny – and what it reveals about the listening process for children

Laurel or Yanny – and what it reveals about the listening process for children

Yanny or Laurel?  Isn’t listening to a single word meant to be child’s play?

Yes, it’s the latest viral sensation.  The game to play (and debate) with your colleagues, family and friends.  But how can two people listen to the same clip and hear two completely different words?  Scientists have put across their explanations (for example here and here), citing as reasons for the two different words heard similar frequencies of speech sounds, slightly unclear (or overlapping) audio material, and our brain hearing what it expects to hear.  But as well as being a fun social media sound experiment, it also gives us a chance to reflect on the listening process…

Hearing is not an all or nothing process involving just the ear. The processes involved in working out what the sound information means are many and complex (see our auditory processing article for more information).  This means that even if your child passes a hearing test with flying colours, they may still have trouble hearing the differences between sounds in words, or understanding words or sentences.

For example, some children with speech sound difficulties (but good hearing) may need practice to hear the difference between the sound they are learning and their error sound, so a child who says ‘ch’ as ‘sh’ may practice listening to pairs of words like ‘ship’ vs ‘chip’ before learning to say the ‘ch’ sound.  You may have heard speech sound difficulties called ‘phonological delay/disorder’, and listening games play a vital role in speech therapy.  In the yanny/laurel, we see how our brains can interpret sound information differently – even as adults who know all the speech sounds they are listening to!

There are very few situations in our lives when we are listening to words without background noise. We can take for granted what our brain is doing to screen this out.  The clip seems pretty high quality, yet the background noise is still thought to have an impact on our perception.  Will this prompt you to minimise background noise when talking to or playing with your child at home?  Turn off the TV or music during talking time to help them focus on your words.  Also, if someone you know wears a hearing aid, these amplify all noise including background noise, which can make it harder and more tiring to understand speech.

We fill in gaps, and hear what we expect to hear. Think about when you mishear song lyrics, then no matter how you try you can’t work out what the singer is actually saying (once you have heard “we built this city on sausage rolls” it’s hard to hear it as “rock and roll”…).  You only have to watch this fabulous clip from Peter Kay with Sister Sledge singing “Just let me staple the vicar”.

We use our previous experiences, the position of the word in the sentence, and the situation in which we hear the word or sentence to make sense of it.  If we had heard the clip in the sentence “I need to prune my yanny/laurel bush” we may all have heard laurel!  Encourage your child to ask if they haven’t heard you, and encourage older children to use clues to work out the most likely word for the context.  This is a great skill for children to try when they come across new words in their reading book.

So before you go home and debate with your other half whether it is obviously yanny/laurel, spare a thought for the hard work your child is doing whilst learning to listen and understand words, when we adults still don’t always hear the same thing!

Written by Alys Mather, Speech and Language Therapist

Related articles

Top tips for attention and listening skills

My child won’t listen! Free Parent’s guide to listening skills

What is auditory processing and why it is controversial?