Speech prompts and strategies I use in Speech Sound Therapy
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Speech prompts and strategies I use in Speech Sound Therapy

This particular student has a mild motor planning difficulty and six weeks ago he came to me with a very strong lisp. In addition to the lisp he is struggling to produce a number of sounds, SH and L on its own and all the clusters (FL/BL/KL/PL) but also CH together with some vowel difficulties.

The prompts are a mix partially from the DTTC (Dynamic Temporal and Tactile Cueing) model by Dr Edythe Strand as well as phonological models I have learned over the years, and some of them are my own.

Visual/picture prompts and Images

Here I use the ‘Flat Tyre’ Sound, to offer as an image for a new S sound and the ‘Tick Tock’ Sound for a new image of the T sound. Both cards are from the Bjorem Speech Sound Deck, which I love and use almost daily.

Gestural Cues

I like to use all the ‘cued articulation’ hand cues by Jane Passy for consonants and fricatives. Here we use our fingers and hand to illustrate what our tongue does, and we also show whether a sound is voiced or voiceless. When I use one finger it is voiceless (k/f/s/p) and when I use two fingers for the same cue it means that the voice needs to be turned on: (g/v/z/b/n/m). For vowels I like to use Pam Marshalla’s cue system.

Simultaneous production

We say the word together.

Direct imitation

I say the word and my student copies me directly.

Imitation after a delay

I say the word and then after a little wait my student says the word.

Spontaneous production

My student has now learned to say the word by him/herself.

Offering feedback

It sounds like… I just heard… I didn’t hear the first sound there? Can you try again?

Letting the student reflect

By just shaking my head or by looking quizzical so that my student realises something didn’t quite go right.

Postitive reinforcement

‘Yes that was it, do it again, nice one…’

Cognitive reframing

This is a technique where we identify different semantic cues and metaphors or imagery cues, so instead of teaching or focusing on a sound we try out viewing each syllable from a different point of view.

For example: ‘yellow’. I have had great success with this one: we start with just saying ‘yeah yeah yeah’. I might make a little joke and say something like ‘imagine your mum says tidy your bedroom, what do you say or what do you think?’ Answer: ‘yeah yeah yeah’. Then we practice ‘low’ together, I might blow some bubbles high and low and we talk about ‘low’. And then we put ‘Yeah’ and ‘Low’ together and now we have YELLOW!! It might at first still sound a bit odd, like ‘yea-low’ but we soon shape that up and have the real word.

Each student is different and having a great rapport is crucial to our success.

Then a little game break after some 7–10 or so repetitions and always trying to finish on a positive note.

What game breaks do I use:

Very quick ones! Students can post something, place a counter in a game, take out a Jenga block from the tower, pop in a counter for ‘connect 4’, stick a sword into the Pop the Pirate barrel or add a couple of Lego blocks to something they are building.

I hope this is helpful, please contact me for any questions.

Sonja McGeachie

Early Intervention Speech and Language Therapist

Feeding and Dysphagia (Swallowing) Specialist The London Speech and Feeding Practice

The London Speech and Feeding Practice

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

Are the Gestalts I model easy to mix and match later on?
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Are the Gestalts I model easy to mix and match later on?

Image by bearfotos on Freepik

Here are some examples of great phrases and Gestalts that we could use:

  • Let’s get a banana / Let’s go out / Let’s play lego / Let’s go see daddy
  • That’s nice! / That’s really good! / That’s a green one / That’s a submarine
  • Need more help / Need a wee wee / Need that / Need to run
  • How about a biscuit / How about a cuddle / How about watching tv
  • We love bananas / We love a monkey / We love a cuddle

Why or how could these examples be mixed and matched?

You can see I have given several examples for each, that is how later a child can take one chunk (let’s) and add another (go out) or (need) + (go out).

What about our own grammar? Should we be using grammatical phrases?

In general for NLA 1 (Natural Language Acquisition stage 1) we want to use short phrases and keep them quite generic, something like:

‘Let’s go’ or ‘let’s play’ and pick 2-3 phrases per communicative function (see next point below).

And if we are going to say longer sentences, for example: ‘let’s go and feed the ducks now’, then we should do so with good grammar and really varied intonation. It sometimes helps me to make up a little song/jingle on the spot that has a lot of intonation, more than I would perhaps use just by speaking.

How many varied communicative functions do we cover with our modelling?

We want to model a variety of Gestalts other than just requesting for example. In general, we are looking at our child having one or two Gestalts in the following areas before they are ready to move on into stage 2.

These are the most common ones I see in my practice:

  • Requesting ‘want a banana/biscuit’ ‘Wanna play ball’
  • Transitioning: ‘what now?’ ‘what next?’
  • Ask for help: ‘need help’ ‘help me’ ‘mummy help’
  • Commenting: ‘it’s big’ ‘it’s red’ ‘it’s fast’ ‘too loud’
  • Speak up for self: ‘not that one’ ‘go now’ ‘stop it’

Is the Gestalt I am modelling meaningful to my child?

We don’t use all available Gestalts for every child. It has to be meaningful to the individual and has to match their interests. If our child is a big fan of feeding the ducks in the park then we can think about Gestalts like:

  • I see ducks!
  • They’re over there
  • Let’s feed them?
  • Let’s get some seeds
  • They’re coming!
  • They want food / They wanna eat!
  • That’s a big one
  • It’s so hungry
  • It loves the seeds!
  • No more! All done! Finished! Let’s go home

What is my child actually trying to tell me?

We have to be become word/phrase detectives! Is the phrase/script/Gestalt they are using right now actually meaning what they said or does it mean something else, and if so, what?

Here is an example from my own personal experience in my practice:

The little boy I was working/playing with was building a tall tower with blocks. When it finally fell with a great big bang he said in a sing-song voice ‘ring-a-ring-a roses’ … then he began to collect the blocks again to make a fresh tower. I sat there and thought: why ‘ring-a-ring-a roses’? What does that mean in this context? I then sang the song (silently) to myself with my detective hat on and realised as I came to the end that it finishes with ‘we all fall down’! it was a real AHA!!! moment for me as I saw right there what the meaning of his Gestalt was. He sang the first line of the song to say ‘all fall down!’

So realising this I waited for the next tower to fall, and there it was again, he sang the first line of the song. I replied thus, copying him at first:




The process to find what we should say is not always straight forward or easy at all, and often we don’t quite know in the moment what our child is trying to say. But we can try and get to know their interests and then gradually we do know more and more what the meaning behind the Gestalt is or could be.

What pronouns should we use?

This can be a tricky one.

We don’t want to use language that uses the pronouns ‘you’ or ‘you’re’. The reason is that our child will likely copy us exactly as we have said it. Therefore, using pronouns ‘you’ and ‘you’re’ will then sound wrong.

Always try to model language that is from the child’s perspective or in other words how they would say it if they could.

Alternatively, you can model using WE or US. For example, if the child is tired, rather than saying ‘you are so tired’ model language from his or her point of view: ‘I’m tired’ or ‘let’s go have a lie down’.

There is so much more to talk about. Stay tuned for a blog on NLA stage 2 coming soon.

If you need help with your child, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

Help! My child has a lisp. What can we do about it?

Help! My child has a lisp. What can we do about it?

What is a LISP?

There are different types of LISPS. Let me explain:

A lisp is the difficulty making a clear ‘S’ and ‘Z’. Other sounds can also be affected by the tongue protruding too far forward and touching the upper teeth or the upper lip even. ‘T’ and ‘D’ can be produced with ‘too much tongue at the front’ and this can also have an impact on ‘CH’ and often also ‘SH’.

  1. Interdental lisp

Protruding the tongue between the front teeth while attempting ‘S’ or ‘Z’ is referred to as interdental lisp; it can make the speech sound ‘muffled’ or ‘hissy’. Often, we associate a lisp with the person sounding a bit immature. The good news is that this type of lisp is the easiest to correct and, in my practice. I have a 100% success rate with this type of lisp.

  1. Lateral lisp

In a lateral lisp the person produces the ‘S’ and ‘Z’ sounds with the air escaping over the sides of the tongue. This renders the ‘S’ as sounding ‘slushy’ or ‘wet’. This type of lisp is a bit harder to correct than the interdental lisp. In my experience this can be fixed but it might need a bit longer, more intensive therapy than the interdental lisp.

  1. Palatal lisp

With a palatal lisp the ‘S’ sound is attempted with the tongue touching the palate, much further back than it should be. The ‘S’ sounds ‘windy’ and ‘hissy’. This is a quite rare lisp production but it is also not difficult to correct.

These types of speech difficulties come under the category of ‘speech delay of unknown origin’ and may persist into adolescence and adulthood as ‘residual errors‘.

Some thoughts on Treatment in general:

Lisps can be treated successfully by a Speech and Language Therapist. However, for the treatment to work well, a student needs to be able to cooperate and want to improve his or her speech. Lisp remediation entails a fair amount of repetitive work and very young children or unmotivated older children don’t make the best candidates for treatment for this reason. Often students present with other speech, language or social communication difficulties and here the lisp might not be the priority for treating. For example, it might be that due to a student’s Attention Deficit Disorder they are simply not able to focus on speech practice in their daily life.

When should treatment of lisp begin?

Waiting well past 4½ years is not advisable as the longer we wait and do nothing the stronger engrained the erroneous tongue/speech habit will become. The ‘right’ age for therapy for one child may be different from the ‘right’ age for another child even within the same family. So do make an appointment with a speech and language therapist to assess and see whether your child might be ready to start therapy.

Do lots of children lisp—is it normal?

Until the age of about 4–4.5 years old it can be a perfectly normal developmental phase for some children to have the interdental lisp. But when we see and hear a lateral or palatal lisp we ought to act and see a speech and language therapist for sure.

After the age of 4.5 or 5 years old most speech therapists would agree on at least having a look to see if treatment could be started. The longer we wait the harder it is to retrain the brain pathways to adopt new speech habits.

What happens during the first Speech and Language Consultation?

The first consultation takes about an hour and involves screening relevant areas of communicative function. We take a detailed history, examine the anatomy of the child’s mouth and tongue movements. We check for tongue tie, teeth formation, palate structure and function, as well as swallowing patterns.

Then we begin straight away to try and see if any of the alveolar sounds (T/D/L/N) can be produced correctly with the right tongue placement as that would be the starting point from where to shape a good, clear ‘S’ sound.

The first consultation usually ends with home practice being given, explained to parents and another appointment being made for follow up.

Therapy – what does a session look like?

Each therapy session consists of:

  1. Listening to sounds, discriminating sounds, identifying sounds, listening to rhyming sounds, sound awareness. We call this Auditory discrimination of single sounds: can the student hear the difference between two words that are the same apart from the first sound: ‘sing’ and ‘thing’ or ‘sigh’ and ‘thigh’?
  2. Sound production: using a variety of different prompts and cues we will teach how to physically make the new sound. Often, we work on making a NEW sound, instead of correcting the OLD one. We work on imitation of single sounds then gradually we try and make new sounds in short words, then longer words and then phrases and sentences.
  3. Games! We play games and try and have fun in between listening and producing our new sounds to help students stay motivated and even enjoy the therapy session and process.

How long does it take to ‘fix up’ a lisp?

It tends to take about one term with weekly sessions to help a student make good ‘S’ sounds in phrases and sentences. If the student can do the home practice every day in between the weekly sessions, then in most cases I am able to pronounce the lisp as ‘fixed’ after about one term.

After that the student needs to practise, practise, practise, at home and in daily life to keep reminding themselves of their new skills and their new sound production.

It is a matter of reminding and wanting to get it right. Occasionally a student returns to me for another term of simply practising their skills together with me as they are finding it hard for any number of reasons to practise at home. But generally, 8/10 students will be fine after some 12–13 sessions and their speech will be perceived as perfectly typical by family and friends.

If your child has a lisp or any other speech error, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

AAC Systems and Speech and Language Development
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AAC Systems and Speech and Language Development


I see a lot of minimally speaking or non-verbal children in my practice. Some children are autistic and others are severely challenged with motor planning and some are both. Some children are simply delayed in their spoken language for reasons that we don’t quite know yet.

Regardless of the causes, what is always apparent pretty quickly is that apart from the odd gestures or Makaton signs (mainly ‘more” ‘finished’ and “biscuit) we don’t have a robust alternative for speech in place. Instead, what we often have is a child with lots of frustration and tantrums and some behaviours we really don’t want like: hitting, biting, pushing, grabbing and often throwing… There are others, too many to mention, but we don’t enjoy watching our children in these states. And we are often fearful of what might happen next if we don’t find a way to calm our child.

Fear not

In my work, before I get to offer an alternative means of communication, I often have to work with a fair amount of resistance on the parents’ side as parents tend to feel that allowing such a system into their lives will prevent their child from speaking. They fear that their child will so enjoy pressing those buttons that they will become lazy and not talk at all.

I totally get it!

Parents often feel overwhelmed by the task of getting their own heads round how to use AAC, either in paper form or a computerised system. This can be a great turn-off for lots of people who feel they are not very “techy” – like myself actually! Indeed, it is true to say that I resisted operating in this field for a long time as I didn’t feel able to navigate electronic devices. But fear not. Truly, most systems are very user-friendly. The support is great. And I have managed to become quite proficient in one or two of these systems, through using it daily. It really is as simple as that.

Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)

There is plenty of research on the efficacy of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC). It is now very well understood and proven that, once we introduce our child to a good, attractive way of communicating that they can actually do, in time children who can speak will speak. Speaking is more effective than any AAC system. It is more versatile, more fun, and when human beings have discovered how to speak, most will do so in favour of any other system.

Many children and adults, for many reasons, were never going to speak an awful lot, or with great difficulty. Or they were not going to like to speak. Or they were going to like to speak some times but not other times… And for all those people an AAC system is invaluable and a wonderful resource.

Neuro-diversity affirming means that we do not impose one system of communication on our children (speaking with our mouth) only because it is the one we are using and most people we know too.

Of course, we want the best for our children, and we want them to have the easiest and most straight forward existence on Earth. Of course we do. Speaking with our mouth does help with that. But we must come to understand that not all children and people feel like that and they struggle to use their mouth for talking.

Personal experience

I have difficulties understanding this myself, I will be very honest here. And I will say that – shoot me down in flames SLT fraternity – but I am learning to accept that using an AAC system proficiently is a very good alternative for when speech is not coming. I am learning to accept that some people are perfectly able to speak, and might do so but not always and only when conditions are right. I came into the profession as a speech therapist with the idea that I would help anybody that came to me to speak with their mouth. But I have changed my stance on that and now am happy to help anybody that comes to me to communicate most effectively with whatever works for them. I will always try for speech if I can … Just because it’s easiest!


Now I will equally celebrate a child pointing to a symbol or making a sign for something. It is a fantastic moment when it happens for the parents and me and the child! And we can always hope for more speech to come as we go. Nothing wrong with our aspirations, is there?

The basic premise is this: accept any mode of communication as valid, as long as your communication partner understands what it means. Don’t require individuals to repeat themselves in another modality. Do model the response in the modality you are trying to teach. So, a child can point to a symbol and I will respond with speaking (with my mouth) but I will also respond by pointing to a symbol because that way I am signalling that both are ok and that I have understood and am encouraging the person to say some more.

Here is some research;

Binger, C., Berens, J., Kent-Walsh, J., & Taylor, S. (2008) The effects of aided AAC interventions on AAC use, speech and symbolic gestures. Seminars in Speech and Language, 29, 101-111.

Sennott, S.C., Light, J., & McNaughton, D. (2016). AAC modelling intervention research review. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41, 101–15.

Dada, S., & Alant, E. (2009). The effect of aided language stimulation on vocabulary acquisition in children with little or no functional speech. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 18, 50–64.

Contact me if you would like your child to have neurodiversity affirming speech and language therapy.

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.