A few weeks ago I received my new gleaming set of Speech Buddies for the purposes of review. So today I’ll be describing my experiences using speech buddies in speech therapy with several clients. My client’s ages were 3.5, 4.5, 8, and 9. Prior to initiating the use of the speech buddies I have posed a number of questions for myself including:
- Does the use of a particular speech buddy really shorten the time needed to attain sound mastery? (Since on their intro page a chart shows them to be twice as faster in eliciting correct sound production)
- How does the use of a speech buddy compare with the use of a “traditional” oral placement implements (e.g., bite block, tongue depressor, cotton tip applicator, etc)
- Do the speech buddies justify their cost?
So what are speech buddies exactly? For those of you who are unfamiliar with this product here’s a few pictures:
Essentially these are articulation tools (with cute animal names such as rabbit, cheetah, shark, lion, and seal) with specially designed tips aimed at teaching tongue placement for the following sounds: /r/, /s/, /sh/, /ch/ and /l/. They are marketed to both: speech-language professionals as well as parents and average about $300 per set of 5 and $124 individually.
Below you can see a diagram showing how to position each speech buddy in the child’s mouth in order to elicit a sound.
So after receiving my set I immediately started trialing each individual speech buddy with my clients.
First up was the 9-year-old, let’s call him Dale. Dale had only one residual sound error: the dreaded /r/. Prior to receiving the set I had worked with him for 3 sessions and attempted to elicit the sound unsuccessfully. I used the ‘rabbit’ with him for the duration of 3 more sessions, but unfortunately also unsuccessfully. Dale was able to uncurl the coil to slide the tongue but then continued groping movements with his tongue, so the /r/production continued to be distorted. Interestingly, later after I initiated the use of the tongue depressor as well as cotton-tipped applicator to aid with tongue placement, I was able to finally elicit /r/ productively and without distortions.
My second client was a 3.5-year-old. Let’s call him Van. At that time Van was stimulable for all sounds and was making good progress in therapy on slowing down his speech rate to be more intelligible. The one sound he still had some intermittent trouble with was /l/ so I decided to use the ‘lion’ with him to see whether it will expedite his progress. Unfortunately, rather than improving his sound production Van began to actually produce the sound with a tangible distortion (something which did not happen in the past when I attempted tongue placement for the /l/ with the cotton-tipped applicator) so I had to discontinue the use of the ‘lion’ immediately because I didn’t wish to undo all the gains he had achieved to date.
My third client let’s call him Brock was an 8-year-old with a frontal lisp affecting all sibilants as well as an /r/ distortion. With Brock, I have trialed 4/5 speech buddies targeting all the affected sounds for two sessions. Brock produced the required sounds with all the speech buddies appropriately. However, when the speech buddies were replaced by other oral placement tools Brock also produced all the speech sound appropriately as well as was able to produce select sounds e.g., /s/, /sh/, /r/ spontaneously without placement assistance. In other words for Brock, the use of speech buddies was great but no different from the use of other simple placement tools.
Finally, there was my last client who is 4.5 years old. Let’s call him Jace. Jace has a pretty complex speech profile and presents with a number of unsuppressed phonological processes such as stopping, palatal fronting, and a few other processes as well as a frontal and a lateral lisp (yes you’ve read this correctly). Jace also has a number of other issues going on including poor jaw stability, fine and gross motor function deficits as well as significant tongue groping. Needless to say that numerous attempts using speech buddies were not productive, to say the least. For example, when I used the seal to elicit /s/ with central air stream production, Jace simply “adjusted” his tongue on the speech buddy (despite my best efforts to prevent him from doing so) to produce /s/ laterally resulting in sound distortion.
So what were my conclusions at the end of the speech buddies experiment? For starters, based on the research cited on the company website as well as client therapy seen in a variety of YouTube videos, it is evident that speech buddies much like any other oral placement tools (see above) will clearly work for some clients but will be ineffective for others, especially if the latter present with impaired tongue movement and jaw stability as well as any other concomitant fine motor and sensory issues affecting sound production. Speaking only for myself, I did not find that the use of speech buddies particularly shortened the time needed to attain sound mastery. I also did not see the speech buddies being more effective than any other simple tools I’ve used to elicit sound production. In fact when I used a combination of tools and approaches was when I was able to truly see some tangible gains. As a result I did not find that at this time the speech buddies justify the cost of their purchase. However, this is just my own humble opinion, which is based on working with speech buddies for a very short period of time with a very small and select group of children on my caseload.
Now that you’ve heard about my experience, what are your experiences using speech buddies?