For Adults in Speech Therapy, Practice Brings Big Benefits

It’s never too late for an adult to benefit from speech therapy. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if all you had to do was show up to your speech therapy sessions?

As speech therapists, we wish we could say that’s true. In reality, learning a new communication skill takes more than attending sessions once or twice a week. It’s the practice that happens between your sessions that makes all the difference. 

In speech therapy for adults, how much you practice throughout the week will have big benefits for your progress. It might even affect how long speech therapy takes.

How practice helps you improve your speech

After every session, your speech therapist should provide you with target activities and ideas for practicing the strategies you’re learning in therapy on your own. When you take advantage of this “homework,” you’re maintaining and “locking in” the skills you learned in that session. This will put you in a strong position to keep moving forward during the next one. 

Many adults wonder how long their speech therapy will take. Daily practice has benefits for both your schedule and your wallet, since faster progress can mean quicker graduation from therapy!

The stages of competence for learning a new skill

When you’re learning something new, it’s helpful to understand exactly how that happens. The process isn’t always easy, so try not to get frustrated with yourself. 

Research shows that there are four stages of competence before a skill is acquired. Each of these stages will take time. But the time is significantly shortened when you practice every day. 

1 Unconsciously unskilled

This is where many of us start. At this stage, the person doesn’t know how to do a certain skill–and they don’t realize that they don’t know it. They may deny that the skill is worth learning. The person needs to recognize their own need for growth, and the value of the skill, before moving on to the next stage. The amount of time you spend at this stage depends on how motivated you are to change!

2 Consciously unskilled

Though the person doesn’t yet know how to do the skill, they do realize that they lack that knowledge. They know what they don’t know. And they want to learn.

3 Consciously skilled

The person is practicing and learning. They now understand how to do the skill, but it requires a lot of effort and concentration.

4 Unconsciously skilled

The person has had so much practice with the skill that it’s become “second nature.” They can now do it easily, even while they’re doing something else. [Source: Noel Burch, Gordon Training International]

How to fit in speech therapy practice for adults

If you’re like many adults, you’ve got a full schedule, with work, family, and other obligations. Luckily, you don’t have to set aside an hour a day for speech therapy practice. In fact, if you can dedicate just 5 to 15 minutes each day to the structured homework assigned by your therapist, you'll see the benefits in your speech.

Communication is an essential part of everyday life. You can extend your homework by practicing during your daily tasks and routines, too. 

  • Can you practice words that have your target sound while you make coffee, ride an exercise bike, or fold clothes?

  • Try keeping an eye out for words with your target sound while you scroll social media, and say them out loud.

  • Perhaps you can work on a technique to ease stuttering while you eat dinner with friends or family, or by reading an article aloud.

  • Look for chances to practice your speech therapy strategies when you’re making a doctor appointment, ordering food at a restaurant, or talking in a work meeting.

You can work with your speech therapist to develop a personalized list of words and phrases that you use often. These can be words that fit with your profession, hobbies, or schoolwork to make them even more practical and functional. Whatever your daily schedule, you can likely find opportunities to sneak in some practice! 

Your speech therapist is there to support you

Sometimes you might not be sure if you’re practicing correctly, or you can’t remember exactly what to do. Your speech therapist is there to help! Reach out with your questions, and they’ll get you back on the path to clearer, more confident communication. 

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