When to Use the Cycles Approach

The cycles approach to speech therapy is intended for children who meet the following criteria:

  • Highly unintelligible (very difficult to understand)
  • Frequently leave out or omit speech sounds
  • Replace some sounds with other sounds
  • Don’t use very many different consonant sounds

If you’re not sure whether the cycles approach is right for a child, download my free flow chart that will help guide your decision:

Click Here to Download the Free Flow Chart for Choosing a Therapy Method

What is the Cycles Approach?

In the cycles approach, therapists treat phonological processes, which are error patterns in children’s speech.  For example, some children delete all consonants off the ends of words.  This is called “final consonant deletion” and is a specific pattern of speech errors.  This is considered a phonological process.

The cycles approach treats children who use a lot of different phonological processes (error patterns) by targeting each process for a short amount of time and then cycling through other phonological processes.

For example, therapy may target final consonant deletion for 6 weeks and then switch to target stopping of fricatives for another 6 weeks.  After all phonological processes are targeted, the cycles start over again and the original process is targeted again.

Therapy is continued for each process until it is eliminated from the child’s conversational speech.

How to Choose which Processes to Target

Go through this list of potential targets (patterns) and see which ones the child is having some trouble with.  Make a list of the targets that the child is not currently using correctly in conversation but is stimulable for.

  • Does the child mark syllables (you can clearly hear how many syllables the word has) in 2- and 3-syllable words that have equal stress on each syllable? (ex: cowboy and cowboy hat)
  • Can the child use the following consonants at the beginning of CV (consonant-vowel) structures: /m, n, p, b, t, d, w/? (ex: me, no, pie, bow, toe, do, we)
  • Can the child use the following consonants at the end of VC structures: /p, t/ and/or /k, m, n/? (ex: up, out, ick, um, on)
  • Are CVC and VCV words found in the child’s speech? (ex: cup and  Emma)
  • Are alveolar sounds present? /t, d, n, l/
  • Are velar sounds present? /k, g/
  • Are /s/ clusters present? (final position of words is easiest to elicit)
  • Are liquids present? /l, r/
  • Are nasals present? /m, n/
  • Are glides present? /w/, “y”

You should now have a list of all of the patterns (listed above) that the child isn’t doing in conversation but is stimulable for.  Prioritize them by starting with the ones that are easiest for the child to do.  Choose the top 3-6 targets and disregard the rest for now.

How to Set Up your Cycles:

Take the first pattern from your list and choose one phoneme (sound) from that pattern.  Work on that first sound for 60 minutes (two 30-minute sessions, four 15-minute sessions, or however your schedule works).  Then, choose another phoneme from that pattern and work on it for an additional 60 minutes.  (if there is only 1 phoneme in a certain pattern that the child is having trouble with, move on to the next pattern).  Then, move on to the next pattern.

Let’s do an example:

Pattern List:

  • CVC words
  • Velar sounds
  • Final /s/ clusters

Session Length: 30 minutes

Session number with targets:

Sessions 1-2: CVC words that end in nasals
Sessions 3-4: CVC words that end in voiceless stops
Sessions 5-6: /k/ sound
Sessions 7-8: /g/ sound
Sessions 9-10: Final /st/ clusters
Sessions 11-12: Final /sk/ clusters

Do you see how each pattern gets two different phonemes targeted?

How to Run Each Session:

  1. Review: Review the previous session’s word cards.
  2. Auditory Bombardment: Amplified auditory stimulation is provided for 1-2 minutes: the clinician reads around 12 words that contain the target pattern for the session.
  3. Target Word Cards: The client draws, colors, or pastes pictures of 3-5 target words on large index cards. Child repeats the words modeled by the clinician.
  4. Production Practice through Experiential Play: While playing games, clinician and child take turns naming the pictures on the cards. Clinician provides models and tactile cues. The child should achieve 100% accuracy (choose words that are the easiest for the child to produce).
  5. Stimulability Probe: The clinician asks the child to say a bunch of words that contain the target pattern for the next session. Whichever sound is easiest for the child will be targeted during the next session (for example, the child may have to say a bunch of /s/ clusters and the easiest one is selected for practice).
  6. Auditory Bombardment: Repeat step 2.
  7. Home Program: The child practices 2 minutes per day by having a parent or aide read the list aloud and then naming the picture cards of the production practice words.

The Purpose of the Cycles Approach:

The cycles approach is meant to more closely mirror the natural development of phonology in young children where many processes are developed gradually over time by mastering easiest words first.

The researchers of this method claim that it improves intelligibility more quickly for highly unintelligible children than other methods.

How to Know if Cycles is Right for a Child:

If you are unsure whether to use the cycles approach or another approach to treat speech sounds, download my free flow chart:


Click Here to Download the Free Flow Chart for Choosing a Therapy Method

More Resources for Speech-Language Pathologists:

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