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Speech in the Schools

Using Perceptual Illusions in Speech Therapy

Published September 12, 2016 4:01 PM by Teresa Roberts
Children who have challenges with pragmatics and social language often struggle with recognizing that people have different perspectives on the same situation. People interpret actions, behaviors, and events from their own unique viewpoint. One of my colleagues recently shared an interesting technique to teach multiple interpretations through perceptual differences. Visual imagery can inspire a discussion of different ways to view the same stimuli. Optical illusions are designed to evoke variable interpretations. Using optical illusions provides students with specific examples of how we can see the same things differently.

The SLP began with a basic lesson on visual perception based on physical location. She sat across from the student and opened her laptop computer. She proceeded to exclaim loudly and theatrically, “Oh, that’s so awesome! That’s amazing!” She used Google images to search for pictures of the student’s preferred topic and began to comment on the details. The student, who could only see the back of the laptop, reacted to her statements about his favorite topic and said, “What? What is it?”

The SLP stood up and walked over to the opposite side of the table where the student was siting and said, “Oh, I guess from your perspective, all you can see is the back of the computer.  From my perspective, I could see pictures of (student’s favorite things). Why don’t you come over to this side of the table and we’ll both have the same perspective of the screen?”

Next the SLP used a series of images of famous optical illusions with two interpretations, such as the duck or rabbit combination, and the old lady or young lady. The student would label what he saw in the picture and then the SLP would say, “Hmmm, well, from my perspective, I see (alternate image).” Soon, the SLP and the student were working collaboratively to find both possible images for the pictures.

The SLP then presented hidden animals artwork, which required flexible thinking to see how objects could represent other objects, e.g., how a cloud could be shaped like a horse in Jim Warren’s painting “Seven Horses”. The SLP repeatedly used the words and phrases, “perspective”, “my point of view”, and “from here, I can see X”. She periodically praised them both by saying, “Wow! I think we’re seeing this from the same perspective!”

We all have different sensory experiences. With food, music, art, etc., what is positive to one person, isn’t necessarily enjoyable to another person. Our sensory systems and our life experiences affect how we respond to stimuli. Optical illusions showed the student how two people could look at the same picture, one single shared stimuli, and construct different meanings.

When I talked with my colleague about this creative approach, she laughed and said, “How could I start telling him that people have different thoughts about something without physically showing him that people actually see different things?”

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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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