I’ve recently learned of a fantastic technique to use with high unintelligible children. We’ve all worked with a few of these kids, you know, the ones that are so unintelligible even YOU can’t understand them in spite of your highly accustomed ear? That kid who maybe correctly produces 3-5 consonant sounds, and then substitutes those sounds for every other consonant? Or maybe just omits the other consonants altogether? Either way, the result is highly unintelligible speech. Well, here’s a technique you can use for that! It’s called Multiple Oppositions, and it’s a technique used for children who collapse phonemes. A collapsed phoneme happens when a child uses one phoneme to substitute for 4+ other phonemes. For example, one little guy I work with substitutes an /h/ for /s/, /th/, /f/, and /sh/. He “collapses” the /s/, /th/, /f/, and /sh/ phonemes into one phoneme: /h/.
So what are Multiple Oppositions? A multiple opposition is basically a set of several minimal/maximal pairs that are used altogether in the same activity. Rather than using one minimal pair to contrast just two phonemes, you use a set of minimal pairs to contrast all of the collapsed phonemes together. For example, I could use the following set of words for my client: hi, thigh, sign, five, and shy. Notice that “hi” is a minimal pair (or near minimal pair) for the following words: thigh, sign, five, and shy. The idea of multiple oppositions is to introduce all of these pairs at the same time to your student, and tell them to “make them sound different.” This simple technique easily teaches the child how to differentiate between phonemes, and that producing correct phonemes matters for intelligibility. This technique is also efficient because you are addressing multiple targets at once. You’re actually attempting to make widespread change to the child’s whole phonological system, as opposed to targeting one phoneme at a time. Here’s an example of some of the pairs I have used for my student:
So how do you pick your targets? Research done on multiple oppositions (hello EBP!) shows that targets are most effective when you pick 2 targets that are maximally different (different by place, voice, manner, and obstruent vs. sonorant) and 2 targets that are minimally different (differ by 1-2 factors). So, have you heard of/used this technique with your students? What has been your experience with it? Clipart used from mycutegraphics.com and openclipart.org
Until next time,