Overgeneralization When Learning Speech

By Pam Marshalla

toddler maleQ: I have a 3-year-old male client with apraxia. We are working on initial F. After two unsuccessful sessions where he completely shut down and did not want to speak, I took the pressure off, bombarded him with the sound, and rewarded him for placement. He ended up with a few good productions of the sound by the end of the session. The problem is that he came back to therapy today overgeneralizing the F. I was wondering if this was typical and consistent with speech motor learning?

In my opinion you are ignoring the purpose overgeneralization serves. Any child this young should generalize after learning something new. That’s what kids do whether their problem is one of motor learning or not.

For example, when a young child gets a new toy he plays with it, and plays with it, and plays with it, and he does so in a wide variety of situations. He incorporates the new toy into all his regular play routines. This can go on for hours, days, and even weeks. Eventually the client lets it go of the new toy and moves on to other things. Then he picks up the toy at times appropriate to his play.

To me overgeneralization is not a problem. It is how the brain works.

When I teach new phonemes or words, I want my clients to over-generalize for a while. I encourage them to do so. I even teach them to do so.

To me overgeneralization is a sign that the child is acquiring the skill and incorporating it into his organizational repertoire.

Let me add one more thought here. I often find that adults spend a lot of time helping children do the things they cannot do. They perpetually teach to the deficits. I do the opposite. I teach to the assets. I look at what the client is already doing, and I ask myself what it shows me about his learning style. Then, I assume that what the child is doing is the best way to help him learn new information.

This does not work all the time, of course. But it is one of the techniques that has worked the best for me for the greatest number of clients.

1 thought on “Overgeneralization When Learning Speech”

  1. SLP here! I’m wondering if it could be a severe phonological disorder rather than apraxia of speech. It sounds like the child has phoneme collapse. One evidence based approach which might work is multiple oppositions.
    Apraxia is very rare and commonly over diagnosed in the UK and Australia where I have worked.
    I would always seek a second opinion with more complex speech sound disorders.

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