Making Things Sticky

Many parents have had the experience of walking out of a great therapy session and then thinking one day later, “How were we supposed to work on that goal again?”  Likewise, many therapists have had the experience of déjà vu when they feel like their session is just a repeat of last week’s, with no progress toward speech, language, and listening targets.  When we introduce new skills in therapy, how can we ensure that children learn them and parents remember the techniques used to teach them in a way that is fun and meaningful for all?

In their book, Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath share their mnemonic (based on years of research) for what makes ideas or concepts stick in our mind.  Let’s apply it to the practice of Auditory Verbal Therapy.

  • Simple.  Keep your instructions to parents and children as simple as possible.  Being too wordy, or using too much professional jargon, just leads to overload.  A simple activity is more likely to be practiced at home than a complex one.  A simple explanation is easier to remember than a novel’s worth of information.

  • Unexpected.  Things that are unusual stick out in our minds.  This is why I find the strategy of using whispering as acoustic highlighting is always a memorable one for parents.  Use the element of surprise and excitement in your favor to plan dynamic lessons that will stick with the family all week long.  Whisper for acoustic highlighting, put an unexpected animal figurine in the dollhouse, read books with surprising endings.  The possibilities are endless.

  • Concrete.  Give real examples and allow the parent and child lots of opportunities for hands-on practice.  It’s one thing to say, “Let’s give him directions with two critical elements this week.”  It’s another to make a craft together as you demonstrate the concept and then hand it over to the parent.  Remember that deep understanding comes from doing, not just seeing and hearing.  One of the biggest but easiest to correct mistakes I see in new clinicians is spending an inordinate amount of time setting up an elaborate activity but then giving the parent and child only a few turns at the actual skill.  While it’s important to know how (and when) to transition gracefully between tasks, it’s also important to ensure that there’s enough time, interest, and attention to engage the family for the number of trials needed to really cement the skill.

  • Credible.  You have to know your stuff and be great at what you do.  Otherwise, why should the parent listen to your advice?

  • Emotional.  Credibility comes not only from a mastery of knowledge and skills in the field, but also from the feeling of trust and rapport that you build with parents.  We all work harder for people who we feel have our best interests at heart.  If parents feel confident that you truly believe in their child, the buy-in to therapy will be that much greater.

  • Stories.  Families gain strength by hearing others’ stories and sharing their own.  Take time to listen — really listen — to families.


It’s easy to remember: SUCCESs, but harder to implement.  Challenge yourself to incorporate some of these principles into your therapy and see what happens!

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