Listening ears and speaking mouths: Children express talking through drawings

Jane McCormack, Australian Catholic University, Australia (
Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Linda J. Harrison, Macquarie University, Australia (

Background: Articles 12 and 13 of the United NationsConvention on the Rights of the Child(CRC) include the imperative of listening to children regarding matters of importance to them using age-appropriate techniques. Drawing is a non-verbal method through which young children with speech sound disorders (SSD) can present their perspectives.

Aim: The current investigation aimed to establish what young children with SSD convey about talking and listening through their drawings.

91-06-05 ChelseaMethod: Participants were 124 4- to 5-year-old Australian children identified by their parents and teachers as having “difficulty talking and making speech sounds” and assessed by a speech-language pathologist as having SSD. The children were asked to “draw yourself talking to someone” and describe their drawings using the Sound Effects Study Drawing Protocol. Their drawings were considered using an interpretive meaning-making analysis, expanding the six focal points identified by Holliday, Harrison and McLeod (2009).

Results: The 124 drawings had a primary focal point, and 38 (30.6%) had a secondary focal point. The seven focal points are listed below in order of frequency. Excerpts from the children’s verbal descriptions of their drawings are provided to show how these augmented the non-verbal expression:

  1. Sense of self (relationship and connection with others): 39 (31.5%) primary + 9 secondary. Emmett drew “Me talking to my big brother… then Dad’s talking to Mum.”
  2. Talking and listening: 19 (15.3%) + 9: Lloyd drew “arrows coming out of my mouth.”
  3. Emotional investment (colour and vitality): 19 (15.3%) + 2: Natalie used 10 colours to draw herself, her neighbour, and a rabbit talking at Waterworld.
  4. Alternative choice (did not draw themselves talking): 16 (12.9%) + 0: Drew animals and objects.
  5. Accentuated body features (especially mouths, ears and eyes): 13 (10.5%) + 13: Usher said they were talking about “business”.
  6. Isolation (child alone, or lack of a human conversational partner): 11 (8.9%) + 2: Fletcher said there was “no one else” he liked to talk to.
  7. Mood and affect (facial expressions): 7 (5.6%) primary, 3 secondary: Prema said “my brother pushed me”

Conclusions: These young children with SSD conveyed a range of pointsabout talking and/or listening in their drawings; including the people with whom they communicate, the topics about which they communicate, the process of, and their feelings towards communication. Speech-language pathologists, teachers and other professionals who work with children with SSD may find the Sound Effects Study Drawing Protocol useful in enabling children to express their views through this child-friendly media.

Implications for children: Sometimes it is hard to say what you want to if you only use words. You might like to draw a picture to help you tell adults what you are thinking about. 

Implications for families: Children have a lot to say even if they have difficulty speaking. You may find it helpful to use a variety of methods (including drawing) to help them tell you and others about what they are thinking.

Implications for practitioners: “Nothing about us without us” is a common phrase, but it can be difficulty to access the voice of children with speech sound disorder. Drawings supplemented by interviews and other techniques may be useful for considering children’s perspectives on issues that are important to them.  

Funding: Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP0773978)

Key words: children’s voices, communication, speech sound disorder, international

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: