What is the Complexity Approach in Speech Therapy?

What is the Complexity Approach in Speech Therapy?

The complexity approach is a method used in speech and language pathology that advocates for the teaching of more complicated and typically later-developing sounds. Studies conducted over the past 25 years have shown this method to be highly effective. Children who learn more complex sounds typically learn both treated and untreated sounds because of the relationships of these sounds within syllables and words. 

One example is if a particular child is missing multiple sounds and is subsequently taught a three-element sound cluster (i.e., “s-t-r”), then they will also learn missing two-element clusters (i.e., “s-t” and “t-r.”) Conversely, a traditional method would have the child learning one letter sound in isolation, and while that individual letter sound may change, other letter sounds or combination of sounds will not. 

Essentially, the complexity approach suggests that more complex sounds and clusters should be the priority in speech therapy as this will help trigger changes in both more and less complex elements of speech and language. In turn, this method argues that by teaching less complex speech elements, only less complex elements will be triggered to change and improve. 

If you want to learn more about various approaches in speech therapy or want to get your child started with speech therapy, simply schedule your free introductory call today! 

How Does the Complexity Approach Work?

The simplest explanation is this: when you teach a child a complex or challenging sound, they will learn that sound, as well as many other easier sounds, automatically. 

This may sound like some speech therapy hocus pocus, but the effectiveness of this method is based on over 30 years of research and clinical studies. A more complicated explanation of the complexity approach involves different categories of sounds and how these various categories of sounds relate to each other in certain words and, more broadly, in universal language laws. 

A speech and language pathologist who is experienced and knowledgeable about the complexity approach will use these sound relationships, as well as the sounds the child can and cannot correctly produce, to identify which specific complex cluster sounds should be prioritized. 

What are Complex Cluster Sounds?

Some of the most commonly taught complex clusters and complex sounds include: 

  • 3-sound clusters (such as “spl”, “skw” and “spr”) are more complex than two sound clusters (such as “sl” and “pr”) and subsequently should be prioritized.
  • What speech therapists refer to as “small-sonority-difference clusters” (such as “sm” and “sn”) are more complex than what is known as “large-sonority-difference clusters” (such as “tw”, “kw” and “pl”.)
  • True consonant clusters (such as “tw”, /”pl”, “br”, and “fl”) are more complex than what is referred to as “adjunct clusters” (such as “sp”, “st” and “sk”.)
  • True consonant clusters (such as “pl,” “sw” and “fr”) are more complex than affricates like “j” or “ch”
  • Affricates (such as “j” or “ch”) are more complex than fricatives (such as “f” or “s”.)
  • Longer, “hissy” sounds are referred to as “fricatives” (such as “f” and “s”) and are more complex than short “stops” (such as “p” and “t”.)
  • Semi-vowel ‘liquid’ and glide sounds (such as “l” and “r” are more complex than sounds that are made through the nose (such as “n”.)

The main idea with this approach is that speech and language pathologists should prioritize teaching any speech sound targets that:

  • are typically acquired later, developmentally 
  • are complex (as listed above)
  • the child does not yet know and/or cannot yet produce correctly

Again, the goal of the complexity approach is to produce major, system-wide changes as efficiently as possible.

What Does the Complexity Approach Help With?

Children who are living with a speech sound disorder commonly struggle to learn the essential sounds required to speak their language. This means that many children often require clinical treatment with a speech therapist in order to normalize and regulate their speech. While there is a wide variety of speech sound disorders, the complexity approach is typically used to treat functional phonological disorders. 

Children with functional phonological disorders typically exhibit delays in the production of sound in the absence of any easily identifiable motor, structural, sensory, neurological, or cognitive cause. 

Functional phonological disorder refers to frequent and predictable, rule-based errors that affect the production of more than one speech sound. These types of disorders typically involve a pattern of errors that is used by the child to simplify speech sound production. Some of the most common errors in children with phonological disorders are the substitution of the “k” and “g” sounds for “t” and “d” (for example, saying “tat” for “cat”) or the elimination of the final consonant of words (for example, saying “ba” for “bat”). It is important to note, however, that many of these phonological processes are common and appropriate for younger children but are no longer expected by a certain age. 

If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, help is available. Get your child started on a path to better communication skills by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What is the Articulatory Complexity of Speech?

The term articulatory complexity (or articulatory-phonetic complexity) of speech refers to the level of complexity of speech sounds based on how easily they are pronounced and perceived. 

Why Don’t All Speech Therapists Use the Complexity Approach?

While there is proven effectiveness withthe complexity approach in speech therapy, this method is utilized less often in favor of more traditional approaches to speech therapy. This is likely due to a variety of reasons, including the need for a highly detailed phonology analysis to create a treatment plan. Speech therapists will work with parents to develop a plan of care that is best suited for their child to reach the goals that have been defined..   

Why Go With Great Speech?

At Great Speech, all of our amazing speech and language pathologists are well-versed in the many available methods and techniques when it comes to providing speech therapy for children and adults to improve their speech and language. This means that each therapist is specially equipped to create a treatment plan that is an ideal fit for your child, their needs, learning style, challenges, and goals. 

If you think your child would benefit from speech therapy, don’t wait. Get started with Great Speech by scheduling your free introductory call today!