The Myth of Lazy Speech

Janine Shapiro, Co-Clinical Director of Access Behavior Analysis

So often, a parent or a behavior therapist will comment to me that their child or patient is perfectly capable of producing correct speech, but the child is simply “being lazy.”  Every time I hear that excuse, I cringe.  In an effort to be likable, I avoid correcting people whenever possible, but I always rally to the child’s defense in the presence of the “lazy argument.”

Speech Improvement is a Process

The thing is, for most people, it requires very little effort, if any, to produce correct versus incorrect speech.  If a child is just learning how to produce a new sound, then the child will need lots and lots of correct practice trials until it becomes second nature.  Producing a word incorrectly is not because the child is being lazy, but rather because changing speech habits requires lots of errorless practice.  It’s important that the adults in the child’s life assist by setting the child up for success.  Incorrect productions should not be accepted.  When errors are made, the child should be prompted to produce the correct response twice, when possible, in an effort to assist the child in becoming more fluent with the correct form than the incorrect one.  If a child presents with numerous speech errors, it’s best to focus on one sound or sound pattern at a time to facilitate corrections and to lessen the likelihood of frustrating the child.  Another option is to focus on a specific time of the day, such as dinner, and provide feedback and additional opportunities for correct productions to the child only during that time.

The Learner is Always Right

Another reason for avoiding the “lazy excuse” is that it doesn’t provide a path to fix the problem.  In behavior analysis, there’s a saying, “the learner is always right.”  This means that the learner is simply doing what he’s been taught by the environment.  If a child presents with speech difficulties, it’s especially important that the people in the child’s environment actively change their behavior to assist the child.  Simply saying that the child is lazy deflects all responsibility and suggests that improvement isn’t likely, which simply isn’t true.

In the video below I aim to dispel the myth of lazy speech!

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