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Speech in the Schools

White/Gold vs. Blue/Black Dress

Published March 4, 2015 9:25 AM by Teresa Roberts

Millions of people on social media and later mainstream media recently viewed a photo of a particular dress that stirred a national debate. Due to the background lighting and photographic exposure, people saw the two colors of the dress differently.

For all of us who debated the colors of that dress (blue/black or white/gold), we had a personally relevant mini-lesson on qualia. The philosophical terms quale/qualia encompass the concept that sensory experience is subjective. People have their own individual responses with unique perceptual properties for a given stimulus item or event.

We don’t have a universally shared sensory system. We don’t experience the same things when presented with an identical stimulus. We are neurologically diverse. As clinicians, much of our daily work is with individuals who have a range of mild to profound differences in neurological profiles. The color of that dress, and the disparate views, continued to surprise us, even though our work gives us an advanced understanding of sensory responses. We are reminded that our perception is only our own – and not necessarily that of our clients, and those around us.

We gain valuable information when we ask direct questions about sensory perception. A few years ago, I watched a skilled teacher show a drawing of stick figures standing in a row on a blank background as a visual reminder for a child to stay in line in the hallway. Depth and directionality may be challenging to achieve in simple line drawings. As adults, we saw the vertically placed stick figures as children standing in a line. The teacher asked the child what he saw. She expected him to say something about standing in line, instead he said, “All of the kids are standing on my head.” This drawing represented an entirely different concept to him. He saw the directionality differently.

Client sensory experiences vary. Many clients with articulation disorders may have different perceptions of speech sounds, e.g., possibly unable to differentiate maladaptive productions from target productions.  Ear training helps establish a shared perception of distinctive speech sounds. Clients with behavioral concerns may perceive the relative safety of a given situation differently, based on possible earlier life circumstances, which required hyper-vigilance for survival. Clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder frequently report painful responses to certain sounds.

The photo of the dress showed us the neurological variation in visual discrimination that exists for all of us. Taking time to ask our clients how they perceive the situation (setting, context, etc.) and the stimuli (materials, activities, etc.) gives us insight into their experiences.

Acoustic stimuli

What did you hear? What does it sound like to you?

Visual stimuli

What did you see? What does it look like to you?

Olfactory stimuli

What did you smell? What does it smell like to you?

Gustatory stimuli

What does it taste like to you?

Tactile stimuli

What do you feel? What does it feel like to you?

Proprioceptive stimuli

How does it make your body feel?

Emotional and regulatory system

How does it make you feel?




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About this Blog

    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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