The School SLP

The Complexity Approach For School SLPs

The Complexity Approach

The Complexity Approach For School SLPs- Free Tutorial and Materials!

The complexity approach to phonological treatment is the epitome of “work smarter, not harder” which is why, as school SLPs, we are BIG fans! You may have seen us link to this plain language summary of the evidence base surrounding the complexity approach before.  Recently, Holly Storkel, PhD wrote an article summarizing the research for and explaining the complexity approach which you can find here. Along with the article, she developed materials to use for assessment and treatment target selection. All of these materials are FREE! If you’re new to the complexity approach, I recommend reading her article!  Here’s our free tutorial on using the complexity approach as a school SLP.

If The Complexity Approach Is So Great, Why Haven’t I Heard Of It?

In her article, Dr. Storkel states that a recent survey suggested that only 8% of SLPs use the complexity approach in their clinical practice and that 70% of SLPs had never heard of it. Although this approach totes a significant evidence base, it can involve a very detailed assessment and analysis process. Using the complexity approach may take more time up front during assessment and treatment target selection, this is true. It will definitely take longer than simply giving the GFTA. However, the extra time up front can pay off immensely! Keep reading!

More Time Invested Up Front May Decrease Your Caseload Later

In her article, Storkel states, “…the use of the complexity approach in phonological treatment has potential implications for caseload management. By targeting system-wide change… during a natural period of accelerated learning (i.e., preschool) there is great potential to normalize speech sound development and transition children off caseloads before school entry.” Personally, I have seen this happen! This photo is from a recent conference. It was so fun to show this child’s parents how much progress he has made in such a short time.

I’m Interested! But What Is The Complexity Approach And How Do I Use It?

To get the most detailed and in-depth information about the complexity theory, I suggest that you read Dr. Storkel’s tutorial. In short, the complexity approach involves targeting later developing, marked (e.g. complex) sounds that the child produces with low accuracy and is not stimulable for. Choosing these treatment targets creates “system-wide change” in the child’s phonological system. I explain this to parents by saying that when we work on the more complex sounds, it creates a trickle down effect in the child’s speech where a lot of the “easier” and less complex sounds fill in naturally, even though we did not directly target them. This page contains all of the free materials that Dr. Storkel created. Of these materials, I found the videos SUPER helpful in learning how to use the spreadsheet that she created.

The Free School SLP Complexity Approach Tutorial

Hopefully you’ve bought in and are wanting to know more about using the complexity approach. But how does this translate to the realistic and chaotic daily schedule of a school SLP? My caseload is currently sitting at 80, and I know that there are many school SLPs with higher numbers! That’s why I’ve created the Complexity Approach for School SLPs Tutorial. This tutorial is based off or Dr. Storkel’s article. I highly suggest that you read through the article and case studies. Many times there are more than one appropriate complex target for a child, and the case studies are helpful examples of clinical analysis and problem solving. All I’ve done is outlined how I used and adapted her free materials to use the complexity approach for an evaluation in the school setting.

The tutorial suggests downloading and saving the following files. I emailed the PowerPoint documents to myself so that I could make them mobile and use them on the iPad.

Analysis Workbook (excel)

Cluster Probe (PowerPoint)

Singleton Probe (PowerPoint)

Download and print the following answer sheets to fill out during the evaluation process:

Cluster Answer Sheet

 Singleton Answer Sheet

Stimulability Answer Sheet

Cluster Stimulability Answer Sheet

The tutorial is designed to walk you through the evaluation process and treatment target selection. *Hint* I used the first few treatment sessions with my child as continued evaluation.

FREE Complexity Approach Materials From Awesome Websites

Now you have your target! What next?? The SLPath website has TONS of free resources on the complexity approach. They also have complexity flashcards and a complexity flashcard app you can download! They also have a treatment target guide, which is what I previously used to choose treatment targets.

Caroline Bowen’s website is another fantastic resource. Here is a list of free flashcards that includes many complex clusters.  Here is a list of minimal pairs with maximal oppositions.

We’ve started a book list and are planning to add our favorite books with complex clusters. We’ve got a few on there already!

book list

We are always looking to learn more and certainly do not know everything. If you have helpful information to share, feel free to leave a comment or email us at



Storkel, Holly L. “The Complexity Approach to Phonological Treatment: How to Select Treatment Targets.” Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 2018, p. 1., doi:10.1044/2017_lshss-17-0082.