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Navigating the Path to Carryover in Speech Sound Intervention

Updated: Mar 13


Bridging therapy and everyday life in speech sound intervention




For speech-language pathologists (SLPs), the pursuit of carryover—the application of newly acquired speech skills in spontaneous communication—represents a critical milestone in speech sound intervention. This goal remains consistent across various therapeutic approaches, whether anchored in perceptual-motor learning (Ruscello, 1984; Van Riper, 1978; Weston & Irwin, 1971) or cognitive-linguistic theories  (Hodson & Paden, 1983; McReynolds & Bennett, 1972; Weiner, 1981). Yet, achieving carryover is a nuanced process that extends beyond the clinical setting, involving intricate interplays between the therapist, child, and their environment.



The Complexity of Carryover


Carryover isn't a guarantee for all children, despite successful target establishment within therapy sessions. Some children transition their skills into daily life seamlessly, others with moderate effort, and some only after intensive and prolonged instruction. This diversity in carryover efficiency highlights a need for personalized strategies tailored to individual learning paths and challenges.



Factors Influencing Carryover Success


Research suggests that carryover's success is influenced by both environmental and within-child factors. Environmental factors encompass the therapeutic adjustments aimed at mirroring the child's natural communication settings—increasing linguistic complexity, changing practice environments, and utilizing naturalistic activities  (McReynolds, 1987). Within-child factors, on the other hand, include innate qualities such as motivation, problem-solving abilities, and self-monitoring skills. Children who spontaneously exhibit carryover often demonstrate an "aha" moment, swiftly integrating speech targets into their everyday language with minimal guidance.




A Dual Approach: Behavioral and Cognitive Strategies


Traditional phonological training has leaned heavily on behavioral learning theories, emphasizing stimulus-response-reinforcement paradigms (Bankson & Byrne, 1972; Shelton, Johnson, & Arndt, 1972), and cognitive-linguistic learning theories, which focus on active mental processing and problem-solving (Johnston & Johnston, 1972; Ruscello & Shelton, 1979). While effective in establishing correct speech targets and facilitating transfer within therapeutic settings, these approaches sometimes fall short in promoting carryover (McReynolds, 1987; Shriberg & Kwiatkowski, 1990).



The Constructivist Strategy: Empowering Self-Regulated Learners


Constructivist strategies, advocating for learning through meaningful, real-life tasks, hold promise for enhancing carryover. By fostering a setting where children actively engage in their learning process, these strategies aim to cultivate metacognitive skills crucial for self-regulation (Ertmer & Newby, 1993; 1996). This involves children developing an awareness of their speech targets and employing strategies to use these skills autonomously in various communicative situations.



Embracing a Collaborative Mindset


Successful carryover necessitates a partnership approach, recognizing the invaluable insights and practices families bring from their interactions with the child at home. A reciprocal carryover model, emphasizing a bidirectional exchange of strategies between therapists and families, can enrich the intervention process (Padia, 2023). By observing family-child interactions, understanding their communication dynamics, and incorporating their established systems into therapy, SLPs can design more effective and meaningful intervention plans that resonate with the child's everyday life.



The Road Ahead


A collaborative approach, engaging both families and therapists in the intervention process, is pivotal for achieving carryover. Families possess unique insights into their child's communication habits and challenges, making their input invaluable for tailoring therapy to the child's real-world needs.



  1. Assess Individual Needs: Begin by evaluating the child's specific strengths, needs, and the environmental contexts in which they communicate. This assessment should include both standardized testing and informal observations in various settings.

  2. Incorporate Family Insights: Engage families in discussions about their child's communication habits, strategies they find effective, and challenges they face at home. Use these insights to adapt therapy goals and methods.

  3. Select Meaningful Activities: