“Sssss” is for “Snake”

I wrote here about working with T on identifying and producing the Ling-6 sounds (“mmm,” “ooo,” “eee,” “ahhh,” “shhh,” and “sss”). T has made some great progress with producing these sounds!

Now, he very consistently will say “mmm” when he picks up a toy ice cream cone, and, he will even say “mmm” when he sees a picture of ice cream in one of his books! (However, he is not at all interested in eating ice cream – strange!).

But, the latest, and I think most exciting development, is that T has now started pretty saying “ssss” when he picks up the snake toy! “Ssss” is a tricky sound – it’s tricky to hear because it’s a relatively high frequency sound, which is usually difficult for people with hearing loss to hear. It’s also tricky to say – even children with normal hearing tend to take longer to consistently make this sound. Although right now T only says “sss” when he picks up the snake toy and won’t say it if I prompt him, it’s exciting that he can hear this sound and has started to figure out how to produce it!


Speech Therapy Session – February 12, 2016

T (almost 9 months!) had a blast at speech therapy today! We played a game where we rolled a ball back and forth – I sat with T and we rolled the ball to his speech therapist, who rolled it back to us. After we received the ball, we’d tap on it (well, I tapped; T pounded!) while saying “ba-ba-BALL!” and then we’d roll it the speech therapist, emphasizing the word “ROLL!” T got lots of practice hearing the contrast between the vowels “ahhh” and “ohhh,” and he also got to practice turn-taking by having to wait for the ball to come back to him. T is usually pretty patient about turn-taking, but he was SO EXCITED about the big red ball that he kept trying to race across the room to get the ball back. So, this was good practice for him!

And, something exciting happened! We’ve been working hard for the past few weeks on drawing T’s attention to the sound “shhhh.” For example, today at speech therapy, we were playing with a toy piano that plays a song when you push a button; when the song stopped, we’d say “SHHHHH!!! It’s quiet!! the music stopped!” and we would really emphasize the “SHHH” sound with gestures. We’ve been doing this sort of thing for a few weeks now, with music, and by pairing the “shhhh” sound with hiding during peekaboo. And today, for the first time, T produced the “shhh” sound! When the music on the toy stopped, T said “shhh.” We were all really excited – “shhh” is one of the more difficult Ling sounds to produce, since it requires careful mouth positioning, and it’s a bit difficult to hear, since it’s a relatively high-frequency sound that is also sort of soft. T’s speech therapist was excited, and said that all of our peekaboo practice was paying off. I didn’t mention that I’ve been privately working on “shhhh” sounds with T at home by singing and dancing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” – sometimes, T will start grinning at me when I sing “SHHHHHHHake it off” to him 🙂 (Go ahead and judge my taste in music – in the words of T-Swift – “haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate!”)

Speech Therapy Session – February 1, 2016

We started today with working on identifying Ling sounds. Today, T was able to pick out the toys paired with “mmm,” “ooo,” and “ahh”! When the speech therapist said “can you show me mmmm?”, T was able to point to the corresponding ice cream toy out of 4 or 5 toys in a bin (and did similarly for the “oooo” ghost toy and the “ahhhh” airplane toy). I was so surprised he remembered these pairings, since we don’t have these toys at home and so aren’t able to practice this at home. I think it’s possible he identified them by chance, but I do think he’s getting the hang of this each time we try!

One really interesting thing we learned about today from T’s speech therapist was about “prosodic bootstrapping.” (Note: I am not a speech therapist, and really don’t know much about linguistics, so the explanation below is just to the best of my understanding!)

Prosody relates to the larger parts of speech than vowels and consonants, like syllables, words and phrases. Prosody gives us information about speech like the speaker’s mood, whether a sentence is a question or a statement, whether a sentence is said sarcastically, etc. Prosody also helps indicate a language’s underlying grammar. For example, prosody can indicate clause boundaries within a phrase or sentence. Consider the sentence “he walked the dog.” – In English, it would be unlikely to insert a pause between “the” and “dog,” because that splits the phrase “the dog.” The locations and durations of pauses within phrases are one example of prosodic information. Other auditory cues used to convey prosody include: loudness or stress (e.g., which parts of a word or clause we emphasize), frequency or pitch of the voice and how it changes (e.g., in English, pitch tends to rise as we ask a question), and duration and timing of pauses (e.g., to mark clause boundaries, as mentioned above).

Bootstrapping refers to way in which infants naturally acquire their native language, just by hearing it around them and spoken to them. In particular, bootstrapping refers to the idea that infants use innate statistical learning abilities to learn small bits of information about language and build on these small bits to build up their understanding of their native language. A particular example of this is how infants use statistical learning to identify word boundaries (see [1]) – in English, the letter combination “st” is fairly common (as in “sting”), but the combination “gb” is not. Just by hearing streams of speech, infants learn that “st” is common, but “gb” is not, and this knowledge helps them segment words within a stream of speech. Take the example of the stream of speech “stingingbee” – this can be broken into the words “stinging” and “bee,” and “gbee” not likely to be a word, because in English, “gb” is not a common combination.

So, “prosodic bootstrapping” is how infants learn to use the auditory cues that indicate prosody to learn about the intent of speech (is it a question? said angrily or sarcastically?) or the underlying grammar (which are the clauses that are grouped together). One really cool thing is that newborn infants cry with a prosody that is similar to their native language (see [2]), which may indicate that they are learning prosody of their native language heard in the womb! I hope to learn more about how infants (particularly those with hearing loss) learn to use prosody information, and will hopefully write more about this as I learn more.

So, to get back to T and our speech therapy session – T’s speech therapist asked if we had noticed him babbling with different prosody – for example, “ba da ga ba?” or babbling with excitement versus irritation. We have definitely noticed that when he’s ready to get up for the day in the morning (or, at 2 am in his case!), he will start off babbling happily, and then his voice gets more and more insistent and agitated until we finally get him up. Also, he seems more likely to respond vocally to us when we ask him a question (with a rising tone at the end of the question) than when we make a statement and then pause, which indicates that he is picking up on the auditory cues that indicate questions versus statements. We will definitely be paying more attention to this now that we talked about this today!


[1] Saffran, Jenny (1996). “Word Segmentation: The Role of Distributional Cues”. Journal of Memory and Language 35 (4): 606–621.
[2] Cross, Ian (2009). “Communicative Development: Neonate Crying Reflects Patterns of Native-Language Speech”. Current Biology19: R1078–R1079.


Speech Therapy Session – January 22, 2016

We did a few things today that were pretty new to T – he seems to be just on the cusp of being able to understand what we were doing, so I’m excited to see how he responds to these games over the next few weeks.

The first thing we did today was work on identification with the Ling-6 Sounds.  The Ling-6 sounds are a group of 6 different, common speech sounds that, together, represent the speech spectrum from 250 Hz-8000 Hz. The sounds are:

  1. “mmm” – (very low frequency)
  2. “ooo” – (low frequency)
  3. “eee” – (some low frequency, some high frequency)
  4. “ahhh” – (centered in the frequency range)
  5. “shhh” – (moderately high frequency)
  6. “ssss” – (high frequency)

Today, we paired different Ling sounds with a toy.  For example, we paired “mmm” with an ice cream cone (as in “yuMMMM”), “oooo” with a ghost (as in “bOOO!”), “ahhh” with an airplane, “shhhh” with a baby doll, and “ssss” with a snake. So, we’d make the sound while showing T the corresponding toy. The cool thing that we did today was that, after showing T two different toys while making the corresponding sounds, we set the two toys together on the floor, and then made one of the Ling sounds, and waited for T to reach for the toy that matched the sound he heard.

I was blown away when T heard the speech therapist say “ahhhh” and he reached for the airplane! He only did this once, so it might have just been chance. We didn’t get a chance to test him too thoroughly, because he soon got bored and started crawling over to the trash can 🙂

A lot of the stuff we’ve done previously merely required T to detect that he heard something; this was one of the first times he was required to identify the sound that he heard (by reaching for the corresponding, paired toy). I’m excited to watch him get better at this sort of thing in the next few months!

The other cool thing that we did today was starting to teach him to understand the phrase “give me.” When he was holding a toy, we’d say “give me the toy,” and hope that he’d give us the toy. For today at least, he was more interested in throwing the toys then giving them to us,  but we’ll keep practicing!