What is the Auditory Feedback Loop? Have you ever had a cold and had the experience of not being able to hear your own voice clearly, or been so stuffed up that you couldn’t say certain sounds (“my mom” becomes “by bob”)? Have you ever caught yourself using a word you didn’t mean to in conversation and repeating the sentence to correct yourself? If you have, you have experienced the Auditory Feedback Loop (AFL). Listening to, processing, and correcting our own speech and language is an important part of being a good communicator. How can we help children with hearing loss develop this skill?
I visualize the Auditory Feedback Loop as a three-part cycle that continuously goes around and around as we listen and talk.
I say something
I listen to it
I process it and correct it as necessary
The Auditory Feedback Loop is so important for all of us. Even a few milliseconds of delayed audio feedback is enough to through even a seasoned listener unable to communicate (think about a bad cell phone connection when you can hear your own voice). Research shows that hearing device users’ speech changes within seconds of removing their devices. If seconds cause a change, think what damage minutes and hours can do! Step one for developing the AFL is to make sure your child is hearing well with her hearing devices and using them all waking hours.
One of the unique features of Auditory Verbal Therapy is that it enables children with hearing loss to learn to talk through listening. One of the main ways we do this is by developing the child’s AFL. If you are talking into a vacuum and never monitoring your own speech, it’s hard to improve without direct instruction. Who wants to be corrected by others all day, every day? Not I! If we can help a child learn to listen to, monitor, and change his own speech, he can learn far more (and far more independently!) than he ever could with us nagging him. That sounds like more fun for everyone, doesn’t it?
How can we build the AFL? First, we have to help the child by externalizing it. We (parents, caregivers, teachers, and therapists) become that child’s AFL by repeating back her productions. People tend to do this instinctively with babies. The baby coos at you, you coo back. What you’re communicating to that child is, “I heard you. This is what I heard you say.” Children developing their AFL need the same thing! Echoing back what a child says, whether it’s babble, words, or a full sentence, is a great way to help them learn to listen to their own speech. It gives them a second chance at Steps 2 and 3 of the loop above (listening and processing, respectively), and draws there attention to what was said. Another way to help children learn to self-monitor is to ask questions. Give the child feedback about how his sentence sounded to you, the listener. You can ask things like, “Hmm… I heard you say, ‘The girl go to the store,’ but I see three girls in the picture. Is that what you meant?” or “You want a ‘tookie‘ [cookie]?” Play dumb. Respond to what the child said, not what he meant. Parents and therapists are very forgiving listeners. Not everyone in life will be. Help prepare your child for communication in the wider world by letting her know how her speech sounds to others in gentle ways that encourage her to fix it herself. Have the child try again. If the child succeeds, be sure to label and praise — let them know specifically what they did well: “Wow! I heard you listen and fix it all by yourself. That sounded great!”