Categories: Speech development
anna blee speech pathologist

Anna Blee

Anna is a passionate Speech Pathologist who works with small children and makes them feel special and celebrated as they tackle challenges.

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what is motor learning

What is motor learning?

Motor learning is a fundamental process that underlies the acquisition and refinement of skilled movements, including those involved in speech production. There are certain speech delays and difficulties which involve motor planning, and execution, such as Dysarthria and Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). Having an intervention program for these children that entails carefully selected sound and word targets, and hierarchies of supportive cues is critical.

Some of the key principles of motor learning that are relevant to speech intervention include:

Practice variability

Practice variability refers to the degree to which different motor skills are practiced in different contexts. In speech intervention, this can involve varying the phonetic (sound) targets, task demands, and environmental conditions in which speech is practiced. By practicing speech in different contexts, clients are better able to generalise their skills to new situations.

Feedback

Feedback is an essential component of motor learning as it provides information on the success or challenges of a motor skill. In speech intervention, feedback can be provided through a variety of means, such as auditory, visual, or tactile cues. This feedback allows clients to adjust and refine their speech production to move more closely to an accurate motor production. Cues should be increased and faded as required during each session.

Repetition

Repetition is necessary for motor learning as it allows for the development of neural pathways associated with specific motor skills. In speech intervention, repetition involves practicing specific speech sounds, syllables, or words repeatedly to improve accuracy and speed of production.

Task complexity

Task complexity refers to the level of difficulty of a motor task. In speech intervention, task complexity can be increased gradually by adding more challenging phonetic targets or increasing the length and complexity of the words being practiced. This allows clients to develop their speech production skills in a step-wise fashion and strengthens movement components within their speech system, to then affect broader change outside of the specific words that are targeted in sessions.

Transfer of learning

Transfer of learning refers to the ability to apply motor skills learned in one context to another. In speech intervention, transfer of learning can involve the ability to produce speech sounds accurately in both structured and unstructured contexts, such as in conversation or story-telling, not just when imitating words or naming pictures.

Errorless learning

Errorless learning involves reducing the occurrence of errors during the learning process. In speech intervention, this can involve providing clients with models of correct speech production, practicing at a slower rate, increasing the level of cueing that is provided, speaking in unison and other techniques. The more times a child can produce a correct motor plan, the stronger that motor plan becomes and the more likely it will be that the child produces the word in the same manner at future attempts (in the same way practicing at a higher rate with errors strengthens ‘old pathways’ and should be avoided during motor-speech therapy).

Task-specificity

Task-specificity refers to the principle that motor learning is specific to the task being learned. In speech intervention, thought we might use tools or techniques to elicit movements, or strengthen and stabilise the muscles that must work during speech production, a quick link with word-based targets should be apparent.

Self-regulation

Self-regulation refers to the ability to monitor and adjust one’s own performance. In speech intervention, clients are taught to self-monitor their speech production and to make adjustments to improve accuracy and speed, as we ask them for feedback on their own productions, provide video feedback, or use mirrors for example.

Individualisation

Individualisation refers to tailoring speech intervention to the individual needs and abilities of the client. In speech intervention, this means assessing the specific speech needs of each client and developing a treatment plan that is tailored to their individual needs and abilities. As a child progresses, the words and movement sequences that have been presented will change in order to continue to grow their capacities.

At Nurture Nest, the Speech Pathologists have completed additional professional development and certifications to ensure that we are skilled to support children with motor-based speech difficulties.

Some of these include:

  • Barbara Dodd’s Speech Sound and Phonological Assessment and Intervention
  • PROMPT certification
  • DTTC certification
  • Max’s House Apraxia Conference
  • Diane Bahr’s Best Practices in Paediatric Motor Speech
  • Talk Tools Training for Oral Placement Therapy

If you have questions about these approaches please head to the relevant websites for further information.

The principles of motor learning are critical to the success of speech intervention for children with motor-based difficulties. By understanding and applying these principles, speech therapists can help clients to develop and refine their speech production skills, leading to improved communication and quality of life.