If you are looking to teach your child to use vocal speech to communicate, Stimulus-Stimulus Pairing is a simple procedure that can be used to increase speech sounds. This procedure takes advantage of a property of learning where a neutral stimulus is repeatedly presented before a desirable stimulus and then the neutral stimulus will take on the properties of that desirable stimulus. Therefore, a speech sound repeatedly presented prior to a desirable item or activity will cause the speech sound to become desirable. For instance, if your child likes Barney, you could say “Ba” and immediately present the Barney doll or Barney movie for a few seconds. Remove the item or activity until you think that your child desires it again and repeat the procedure. After doing this many times, you may notice an increase in “Ba” sounds produced by your child due to its newly reinforcing value. Now that your child is saying “Ba” you can use this to teach vocal requesting (vocal mands).
If during the time when your child is waiting for the desirable item or activity, your child says the sound, “Ba”, immediately deliver the item or activity while stating its name, “Barney!” You are now working on teaching your child vocal requesting. If your child is consistently requesting the item or activity with the sound, you can now move onto requiring a closer approximation (i.e. “Ba” to “Ba–ey”). At this point, you can also present the word “Ba—ey” and pause to see if your child will approximate the request. Present the item or activity immediately following your child saying the approximation. Once your child consistently says that approximation, move onto closer approximations (i.e. “Ba-ney” then “Barney”). You are now teaching your child to request items and activities and to echo your speech.
- One enhancement to the Stimulus-Stimulus Pairing procedure involves also saying another sound during the time the child is without the desirable item or activity and then not presenting the desirable item or activity. If you are saying “Ba” and then showing 10 seconds of Barney, during the time when Barney is off, say “Zoi” or other sound and do absolutely nothing. Then go back to “Ba” and deliver Barney. This contrast can aid in strengthening the pairing between your desired sound and the desired item or activity.
- Keep in mind that some sounds can take a long time for many children to acquire. The child’s approximation only has to be close enough for you and other caregivers to differentiate from other requests, i.e. tell “Ba-ey” from “Ball.” Follow this link for a listing of typical speech sound development.
While Stimulus-Stimulus Pairing is a simple and effective procedure to increase speech sound production, shaping those sounds into vocal requests and other functional speech may require specialized assessment and procedures. If your child is struggling to learn vocal speech, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your options and schedule a verbal behavior assessment.
If your child already echoes or you find that your child only requests when you say the name of the item or activity, check out the blog on “Teaching Your Child to Make Independent Requests.”