How To Use The Cycles Approach To Stop Stuttering

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Verbal communication is the most fundamental way to express oneself and form meaningful connections with others. A first impression is formed within seconds, and it can be based on the first sentences spoken in a conversation. To suffer from stuttering is to experience a blockade between oneself and others. This is why the Cycles Approach is so essential for children with severe speech sound disorders; it allows them to overcome this barrier and remove the isolation created by stuttering.

This approach drastically changes the patient's ability to communicate with others. By targeting specific errors in speech, it gives children a chance to focus on each error systematically until all are eliminated. It cycles through each error until eventually the patient is entirely cured or highly improved. To speak without mistakes is an invaluable gift, one that is often taken for granted by people born without SSD, or severe speech sound disorders. To help you better understand the Cycles Approach, we go over the basics for you here.


What Is The Cycles Approach?

The Cycles Approach is a therapy used to treat SSD in children. It is one of the most prominent approaches for these disorders and is accepted as a standard technique in research studies. The Cycles Approach focuses on phonological processes, which are patterns or errors in children's speech. These errors can include many common mistakes for children who stutter, from consonant deletion to velar sound deletion - the "k" and "g" sounds.

This approach treats children with a range of phonological processes by focusing on each process for a certain time period and then moving on to another. For example, therapy may begin with targeting consonant deletion- when children fail to pronounce the consonants on the ends of words. After six weeks, the focus changes to another error. Once every speech error has been targeted, the cycle begins again with the first phonological process, continuing until each error is eliminated from the child's speech.

The Cycles Approach is also effectively combined with other prominent speech therapies, such as stuttering therapy, phonological awareness intervention, and speech perception and stimulability training. The approach was developed based on the idea that SSD could be cured most effectively with a technique that used pattern-focused intervention, cyclical targeting of speech errors, and focused auditory input. Each of these elements is crucial to the success of the Cycles Approach.

How To Use The Cycles Approach To Stop Stuttering

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To correctly implement the Cycles Approach, one must choose the right patient and use all elements of the technique. Using the approach on patients whose speech errors require different methods of therapy will be ineffective. Also, each of the three parts of the techniques is essential to its success, so patients must be consistent in going through the entire process.

This approach is ideal for children whose speech is highly unintelligible, or very difficult to understand. It is best for those who frequently use sounds in the place of other sounds. The ideal candidate would have a low usage of consonant sounds. They would omit speech sounds as well, completely leaving out certain parts of words.

How To Determine Target Speech Errors

To choose which patterns to focus on in therapy, the therapist goes through a list of potential target patterns to find out which ones the child struggles with. He or she then creates a list of sounds that the child cannot produce correctly in conversation. You can use these questions to determine this:

  • Does the child mark syllables in 2- and 3-syllable words that have equal stress on each syllable?
  • Can the child use the following consonants at the beginning of consonant-vowel structures?
  • Can the child use the following consonants at the end of vowel-consonant structures?
  • Are consonant-vowel-consonant and vowel-consonant-vowel words found in the child’s speech?
  • Are alveolar sounds present?
  • Are velar sounds present?
  • Are /s/ clusters present?
  • Are liquid sounds present?
  • Are nasal sounds present?
  • Are glides present?

After answering these questions, the therapist will have a list of patterns to target. Therapy begins with a focus on the easiest 3-6 sounds, gradually moving on to the more complicated patterns. This helps children to adapt to the therapy method and builds on previous knowledge. By the end of therapy, the simplest errors will typically be corrected, and the focus will be on the most complex sounds.

Main Elements Of The Cycles Approach Technique

The Cycles Approach comprises three main parts, the first element being the selection of therapy goals based on the child's main patterns of speech errors rather than individual sounds. The patterns chosen should be consistent, meaning they occur at least 40% of the time. The potential targets have two categories: primary patterns and secondary patterns. Although both categories are important, secondary patterns are often eliminated by focusing on the primary patterns.

Primary Patterns

  • Syllable structures
  • Consonants
  • Velar sounds ("g" and "k"),
  • Alveolar sounds ("t" and "d")
  • Fricative sounds ("s", "sh" and "ch")
  • Liquid sounds ("l" and "r")
  • Secondary Patterns

    • Prevocal voicing
    • Distorted vowels
    • Individual fricative sounds
    • Glide sequences
    • Three consonant sequences

    The second part of the Cycles Approach is that it focuses on one primary pattern of speech error for a determined time and then switches to the next pattern. This should be done whether you have corrected the original pattern. A cycle has been completed when all the primary patterns have been targeted, and the second cycle then begins with the original pattern, but with more complicated goals.

    The third part of this technique is the use of auditory bombardment, during which the patient listens to recordings of words and sentences containing the target patterns. This is important because it allows children to hear the correct pronunciation for the sounds they have been practicing. They can then imitate the sounds, hopefully getting closer to reproducing them as time goes on.

    Along with these essential parts of treatment, the patient's "homework" includes practicing pronouncing words with the target sound in therapy sessions. This reinforces the lessons learned during treatment and makes the new sounds feel more natural for the child. Each of these elements is crucial to the therapy method. By focusing on patterns rather than individual errors, this technique allows for a more complete transfer of the trained sounds to other similar sounds.

    Steps Within Each Cycle


    Each session typically lasts for an hour and includes seven steps:

    1.) Review words targeted in the last session
    2.) Auditory bombardment for one to two minutes
    3.) Introduce target words for the session, usually 5-6 words
    4.) Play games that involve the target words
    5.) Brainstorm for next session targets
    6.) Repeat auditory bombardment
    7.) Homework- often 2 minutes of auditory bombardment a day and a list of words to practice

    Each session targets one pattern for one to two hours, focusing on various sounds from that pattern. The Cycles Approach is meant to be intensive as it was created on the idea that phonological acquisition occurs slowly. A cycle can last up to 18 hours, depending on the number of phonological processes in the child's speech. Therefore, in severe cases it can take over 40 hours of therapy for clients with SSD to become understandable by strangers.



    The Cycles Approach is a very prominent therapy method to cure severe speech sound disorders. Many studies have been conducted to determine the success of cycle-based methods. In a recent study, two out of three children with SSD showed improvement in speech after 18 hours of cycle-based treatment. These improvements remained two months after therapy as well, which shows that cycle-based therapy is generally successful in decreasing speech impediments.

    This speech therapy approach is successful partly because it mirrors the natural speech development of children, during which processes develop gradually over time, beginning with the simplest words. This method improves intelligibility more quickly for highly unintelligible children than many other methods. Focusing on patterns rather than individual phonemes is an effective way to improve speech across all sounds, making children more able to express themselves in many contexts. Using cycles to focus on these patterns results in consistency and repetition, making improvement more possible.

    As a child, the creation of relationships with others is a fundamental part of development. This is one of the most important ways that children form their identities, learn the rules of socialization and express themselves. Children with SSD are often perceived as different, which can be isolating and hurtful, especially during sensitive ages of development. The Cycles Approach is an effective way to avoid this psychological trauma, helping children to relate to others and communicate more effectively.

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