To Speech Buddy or Not to Speech Buddy: That is the Question?

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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:

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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, 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 undue 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 assist. In other words for Brock the use of speech buddies was great but no different from use of other simple placement tools.

Finally, there was my last client who is 4.5 year old. Let’s call him Jace. Jace has a pretty complex speech profile and presents with a number of unsupressed 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 a 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 hear about my experience, what are your experiences using the speech buddies?

5 Responses to “To Speech Buddy or Not to Speech Buddy: That is the Question?”

  1. Jamie Jaegle April 17, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    Read the article…pretty much what I would have expected. There is no perfect tool…the closest it comes is a trained and experienced SLP.

  2. I think I have to agree with Jamie above. Having a number of great strategies and resources available is a great thing. Having an experienced clinician is even better. But I don’t believe there is that one tool that will ever be able to replace a good SLP. With that said I have to appreciate all of those out there trying these Speech Buddies to let the rest of us (who don’t have $300 to spend on “taking a chance”) know the real pros and cons and provide us with realistic expectations of performance and progress. So thanks for this review! It just goes to show that every child is an individual which is why we as SLPs must individualize our therapy. Thanks

  3. Eileen Leiber April 23, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    I would have to say I am surprised by your unfortunate experience using speech buddies, especially with that range of articulation issues. I have used them with a few different clients and found great success. With one client, a 4 year old girl, I targeted /r/, /s/, and /ch/. Particularly for /ch/ I found use of speech buddies to immensely and very rapidly assist her with tongue placement. After only a few short sessions she was asking to use the buddy, and after 3 or 4 tries, she would then attempt on her own with increased success. While the /r/ did prove more difficult, and took longer to adjust to the uncurling of the speech buddy, it seemed even just the additional tactile cueing with the attempt (even if she wasn’t able to fully uncurl it), increased accuracy of her production. In addition, in my experience I find that parents as well as the children enjoy and are even comforted by having something tangible that also seems friendly and familiar (think toothbrush as one mom said) to use and really help them see where the tongue and lips should go. So far, I find speech buddies to be a very positive and reasonably priced addition to my articulation tool box.

    • Shawna Pope-Jefferson September 5, 2016 at 11:00 am #

      Reasonably priced? Seems like each client would need their own tool. That is hardly reasonable. I have achieved the needed results using a tongue depressor and my verbal instruction. Plus, it obviously does not work for all clients. I am curious about the ” rabbit” I have tried having the client curl their tongue back and they have done so successfully without it resulting in a intelligibly produced /r/. Some productions require a bunched position, not a curled one. There are two and sometimes three points of articulation for /r/. It is much more complex than simply curling.

  4. Hanna Bogen April 24, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    While I certainly appreciate you taking time to post your experiences with the Speech Buddies, I too am surprised by your lack of success with them. I, and my fellow grad students in my cohort, have used them with a number of different clients and they have been fantastic tactile supports in helping kiddos determine the accurate placement and motor plans for difficult sounds. They certainly aren’t the right tool for every child out there, but they have really cut down on overall treatment time for lots of kids thus far! I will note that while some very young children may do just fine with using the Speech Buddies, I can see why a 3.5 y/o kiddo might have difficulty with /l/ using any type of tactile support, since that’s a sound that’s usually mastered anywhere between 3 and 6. I have found that taking time to explain what the Speech Buddy is helping the client do, how to use it right, and practicing the motor plan of using it without sound (and then with sound) makes a big difference in their success in producing the target sound both with and without the Buddy during practice. So many of the sounds we produce are difficulty to verbally explain, and Speech Buddies seem to be a great way to bridge the gap between the abstract explanation of sound production and the actual accurate production. Hopefully you’ll have more success as you keep trying them with other clients 🙂

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