Executive Function: Behavioral Inhibition

One of my students generously gave me the second edition of Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents (P. Dawson & R. Guare, 2010) which prompted me to re-think speech homework.

Executive skills develop throughout childhood. Let’s think about just one of them. “The cornerstone…is behavioral inhibition, which begins to emerge in the 5- to 12-month age range. This first executive function …helps us to think before we act and to decide when and if we will respond.” (p. 5) The three components of behavioral inhibition include the ability to:
1. delay or prevent a response,
2. stop ongoing behaviors,
3. manage distraction and interruptions.

At the beginning of direct speech therapy, a child is asked to prevent her usual pronunciation of sounds in favor of a pause followed by slower, gentler articulation. With lots of practice in very simple, repetitive games, children can learn to do this when everyone else is too. It is not easy bringing speech under conscious control like this.

Carryover activities add the demand of stopping familiar rapid or stuttered speech in situations that include distraction and interruption. As an example, let’s imagine going out for ice cream.

If the homework is to practice single words, then, the child and her mom might practice saying the names of ice cream flavors. Since the child has never used slower rate and gentler articulation in the ice cream store before, it is very likely that she will be able to do so on only some of the names, maybe 3 out of 6 names at first.

Practice with these 6 names means she needs to prevent saying “Minty Magic”, for example, with a normal “Minty” and say it after a pause and with loosely relaxed mouth and a slight prolongation as in “Mmmiiinty.” The child working on change will need to stop production of “M-m-minty” and either pull-out or cancel it with a pause, slightly slower speaking rate, and perhaps also loosening tension in the lips.

The parent’s role is to manage distraction and interruption by saying the ice cream names using a pause, gentle articulations and slower rate so the child can imitate the model. It is the parent who will make the entire 5-10 minute carryover opportunity a private affair, perhaps by placing an arm around the child or waiting until they are sitting with their ice cream away from the other customers.

Children look to their parents for direction. Most children are not likely to say, “When we get ice cream today, I want to practice easy speech.” I hope you can enjoy looking for times and places to show your child how easy speech can be fun to practice at the park, the ball game, the pool, the movies, on a walk, visiting the museum, working on a home project, and just hanging out together. Your encouragement and praise will help nurture your child’s courage and sense of personal accomplishment.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.