This advice-column-style blog for SLPs was authored by Pam Marshalla from 2006 to 2015, the archives of which can be explored here. Use the extensive keywords list found in the right-hand column (on mobile: at the bottom of the page) to browse specific topics, or use the search feature to locate specific words or phrases throughout the entire blog.
Q: My client can produce only the schwa––“Uh.” He is 3-years-old and pretty smart. But he cannot imitate any consonants or vowels at all. What can I do?
This is what I would be thinking about–––
Teach him to prolong the sound he has––the schwa. And teach him to tolerate your hands on his jaw. Once he can prolong his schwa and tolerate your hands, move his jaw up-and-down while he is vocalizing.
If he can prolong his sound while you are moving his jaw up-and-down, then you will have created a vowel babbling sequence. Research shows that babies babble with vowels before they babble with CVs, and that might be what this kid needs.
The jaw moving up-and-down while vocalizing is called a movement “frame.” Once the frame is developed, then it should be played with, rehearsed, stabilized.
MacNeilage (1998) proposed that “cycles of mandibular oscillation” underlie the basic up-and-down jaw movement patterns of babbling and early speech. This up-and-down pattern is called a “frame” and it was postulated that the frame evolves from chewing.
Therefore chewing activities would be appropriate here too.
The jaw going up-and-down in this frame will make the schwa turn into several different vowels, and you are on your way. You have taught him how to Vowel Babble.
Next, teach him to move the jaw up more firmly. If that happens, consonants will emerge. It is the jaw banging upward within the up-and-down movement frame that causes the anterior consonants to emerge––P, B, M, W, T, D, N, L.
- MacNeilage, P. F. (1998). The frame/content theory of evolution of speech production. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, p. 499-546.