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The Ripple Effects of Audio Books

April 3, 2012

This morning when we went to speech therapy, I asked Mercy to take a book along to read out loud to her therapist. When she first started ST, the therapist and I both agreed we were working on clarifying speech sounds like “s” and “z” and “th.” As Mercy has learned to enunciate those sounds more clearly, we realized pronunciation has masked a secondary issue called dysfluency.

So we took a chapter book that is pretty easy for Mercy to read aloud so the therapist could hear how the dysfluency turns reading aloud into auditory mush.

I think dysfluency can have many different manifestations. For Mercy, it is an inability to do what in voice lessons (singing) we called phrasing: sustaining an appropriate musical phrase on a single breath. The result for Mercy is that when she speaks, and even more dramatically, when she reads aloud, it sounds a lot like stuttering. She often takes a short breath multiple times in one sentence, sometimes even between the syllables of a long word. Because our brains are accustomed to decoding words and sentences heard as units, it is difficult for other people to understand her.

This morning Mercy read aloud to her therapist while I waited in the lobby. At the end of the session, they both came out beaming. The therapist handed me a worksheet of sentences that had the commas and periods highlighted in yellow.

“Reading out loud is the perfect way for her to work on this,” the therapist said.”Mercy is great at following rules and commas and periods are breathing rules. So have her read a loud whatever she wants, but only breathing at commas and periods. Listening to audio books will help a lot, too, because professional readers model what it should sound like.”

The moment she said “audio books,” it clicked. We own dozens of great audio books. But Mercy taught herself to read when she was three. And Mercy falls asleep best in the quiet; as a baby she didn’t even like listening to music at night. Unlike her sisters, she also prefers just cuddling and talking at bedtime, not listening to me read stories.

Because Hope came home when Mercy was sixteen months old, Mercy only had ten months (from six months to sixteen months) cuddled up on the couch with me reading stories aloud. After that it was not safe for me to sit still :).

So Mercy skipped the audio book phase that Faith and Hope went through –that long stretch between about three and second grade or so when they could read fluently –because Mercy read fluently so early. The result is that in second grade, Mercy can read anything I hand her, including the grown-up dictionary.

But much more so than her sisters, she has read silently. As an introvert she craves silence, not auditory input. And as we discovered last year, she has a hidden auditory processing quirk (not a disorder; it isn’t pervasive enough) that makes it hard for her to distinguish initial consonants in words against background noise–one reason she may prefer reading to herself.

In other words, perhaps more than my other kids who like audio books for company, Mercy would have benefited from hearing great books read aloud despite her early ability –indeed her preference — to read silently to herself.

Having her read aloud to me as part of home school hasn’t been enough. In fact, because of my difficulty understanding her (which I guessed would be remedied by speech therapy  and/or age) I haven’t required her to do more than token reading aloud. After all, I wasn’t very concerned about my gifted reader.

So take that as encouragement to read a loud no matter what seems more pressing. And break out the audio books more often! They are necessary, among other reasons, for developing fluency in speech.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Holly permalink
    August 7, 2013 2:20 pm

    This entry was passed along to me from one of the parents in The Windy City/Chicagoland Apraxia Network. I wanted to let you know that I’ve shared it the members of our group on our social media and bookmarked it for future reading by others as well. There are many degrees of apraxia of speech. I feel that understanding all the different modalities, therapies and opportunities for learning benefits a variety of special needs, especially those facing speech & language challenges. Thank you for sharing your great experience for the benefit of others. In my opinion, that is how progress is made — through sharing good thoughts, ideas and experiences.
    Take care, Holly
    P.S. If for any reason you would rather not have your information shared with our audience, please let me know.

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