SPEECH & LANGUAGE THERAPY IN PRACTICE
10. Once the child’s confidence and ability toabsorb, retain and retrieve information hasgrown, some words might be casually soundedduring the practice. The adult should, however,be wary of offering detailed instruction concern-ing letters and their sound combinations tooearly.
Absorb and practise
For a child whose main difficulty is writing andspelling, the chief trigger is being left to struggleto retrieve the impression of words or their parts.A variety of appropriate sentences can be given toolder children and adults, utilising this no strug-gle and no failure approach. The same words maybe placed in different sentences for their rein-forcement. Words from school spelling lists can beincluded in suitable sentences for children toabsorb and practise. Should the person forget thesentence itself as they are writing, it should berepeated for them in its entirety, not word byword as they write.With this method we eliminate the possibility offailure. The child is not encouraged to read aword unless it becomes apparent that they canrecall or retrieve it with ease. They dictate theirown pace and do not experience the harmful neg-ative feelings brought about when progress istested or monitored. They can therefore relax andabsorb the information, and new learning path-ways are opened up.You may be asking, “How much of the progresscould be attributed to individual, focused atten-tion?” Most of the children I see have previouslyhad an enormous amount of individual attention,often from enthusiastic and caring learning sup-port classroom assistants. The children were onlytoo aware that everyone was making a hugeeffort and that they were failing in spite of it. Themore practice they have had at failing, the worsethe problem. It is the nature of the interventionthat is critical.The four case examples (figure 1) illustrate theuse of the basic method and its adaptation forolder clients with writing rather than reading dif-ficulties.
Research is needed to test the robustness of myclinical experience and theory, and a challengegoes out to any speech and language therapistinterested in research. There is a need to acknowl-edge that high levels of tension and anxiety arecommonplace and natural in childhood and forma positive component of the human race. Buteven when within the normal range, tension oranxiety can be responsible for, or a contributoryfactor in, developmental difficulties of all kinds,depending upon its mode of expression. While weawait appropriate research in this area, we willfind it illuminating to speak in some detail withadults and older children who experience literacyand speech and language difficulties, and tomake use of a personality checklist (Sims, 2001).
Alice came to me when she was six yearsold and failing to read at school. Herteacher had suggested that speech andlanguage therapy to correct some soundsmight help her to read. Alice’s speech wasfound to be satisfactory apart from herlack of affricates and some voicing of initialvoiceless phonemes. Administration of aPersonality Checklist (Sims, 2001) revealedsome early and current tension andanxiety. She had always been restless andexcitable but her behaviour had recentlybecome more difficult, she was moredistractible, and she was sleeping morefitfully. She had begun to hide her schoolreading books as soon as she returnedhome from school.It transpired that she no longer followed areading scheme at school, often beingallowed to choose her own books from aselection. She tended to learn sentencesby heart but the only word she could readreliably was her own name. She was ableto sound letters competently.A visit was paid to the school where Alice’sdifficulties were discussed, and it wasagreed that she should return to a basicreading scheme while the No FailureMethod was implemented. Initially it wasto be implemented only by me and herparents, since there was little opportunityfor Alice to receive individual attention inthe classroom. But her teacher was happyto remove any pressure on her to readaloud and she was willing to renew herreading book only when it was entirelyfinished with.Within a few weeks Alice’s reading abilityhad developed and her confidence hadgrown. She was delighted to be awarded acertificate for achievement during a schoolassembly. After 14 weekly one hour visits,regular therapy was discontinued; it wassufficient that the method was maintainedeach evening at home. I did give her someincidental help with her speech during herweekly visits but I have little doubt thather increased confidence in reading andwriting and her enhanced self-esteem werelargely behind improvement in her speech.
Robbie came for help at six and a half. Hewas highly sensitive and keen to succeedbut a basic problem with absorption andretrieval of information was affecting hiscomprehension, speech and self-expression,and his progress in literacy. He had alwaystended to switch off at times, and couldbecome panicky. He was clumsy and hadbeen late with milestones and slow todevelop his left-handedness. In spite of agenerous period of time allocated to him in theclassroom with a learning support assistant,Robbie was unable to read and writewords, though he could sound any letter.As with Alice, the No Failure Method wasimplemented with the support of Robbie’sschool. His mother was taken aback by hisimmediate new level of concentration dur-ing the procedures, just as Alice’s motherhad been. As he relaxed, he graduallybecame able to pay more attention to thesounding of the words. His confidence,enthusiasm and belief in his own abilityrose as his literacy, sequencing and speechand language difficulties faded. One hoursessions had been given weekly for thefirst three months, fortnightly for the nextmonth, and then more sporadically as theneed diminished, home practice havingbeen well established.
At the age of thirteen, Rupert was receivingextra support for dyslexia at his comprehensiveschool. He displayed obvious anxiety andsome disturbed behaviour. The same troublewith absorption and retrieval which laybehind his spelling problems createdcomprehension and self-expression difficulties.Utilising vocabulary from the school curricu-lumsubjects, appropriate whole sentenceswere shown individually to Rupert for himto absorb and write according to the NoFailure Method. Care was taken to ensurethat the challenge was enjoyable and neverexcessive. Frequently occurring words whichRupert misspelled were also targeted andincorporated into various sentences, butnever tested. Each sentence was re-read forhim if he needed to be reminded of it whilsthe was writing, so that his auditory memorywas not taxed or tested. Rupert enjoyed theprocedures and the challenge, feelingrelaxed and in control. As his spelling abilitydeveloped, he made fewer word repetitionsand omissions in his writing.At the same time, Rupert’s learning supportassistants broke down his work tasks intosmall sections which did not appeardaunting to him. His goals were well-defined and essay writing and organisationwas facilitated by this approach.At the end of a year, after 24 one hour sessionsand additional weekly practice providedby a learning support assistant, Rupert’sspeech and language had noticeablyimproved, along with his literacy skills.He was absorbing more information andinitiating conversation in the classroom,which he had failed to do hitherto.
Janine was a highly sensitive and self-criticallady aged 30 years. Her undiagnoseddyslexia, complicated by some depression,caused her a great deal of distress at work,and she was quite unable to express herselfwell verbally at meetings.Janine’s difficulties were explained to herin terms of the disconnection she wasprogrammed to experience. She embracedthe No Failure Method of writing sen-tences. Lists of appropriate sentences weregiven to her. Generally, she successfullycarried out her routine nightly practicealone. She had always relied heavily onword shape and visual impressions and shehad tended to rush her writing before hermemory had the chance to fade. The newmethod of absorbing an entire sentenceinher own time and writing it correctly in itsentirety without making corrections orpermitting any struggle encouraged andenabled her to slow down and pay attentionto the word and sounds she was writing,instead of rushing ahead and attemptingto correct mistakes afterwards.Janine developed a new sense of purposeand her literacy skills and powers of self-expression went from strength to strength.
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