Is speech therapy for cerebral palsy necessary?
Cerebral palsy results in motor impairment that can affect the body anywhere from head to toe.
This includes control over the muscles in the mouth that allow you to communicate and eat.
Speech and language therapy helps improve communication skills to boost confidence and increase social interactions.
What is Speech Therapy for Cerebral Palsy?
Speech therapy for cerebral palsy aims to help children better control their oral motor skills to improve communication.
Milder cases of speech impairment will focus on enhancing natural speech and language while more severe cases will involve learning how to use alternative forms of communication like synthetic speech devices, gestures, or writing.
Speech therapy can help improve:
- Speech Delivery: by working on things like articulation, volume, flow, pitch, stuttering, breath management, and pronunciation.
- Feeding Problems: by improving motor control necessary for chewing and swallowing
- Listening & Comprehension: by building vocabulary
Under What Circumstances Is Speech Therapy for Cerebral Palsy Necessary?
Not everyone with cerebral palsy is going to need speech therapy.
Cerebral palsy can cause motor impairments in all different areas of the body. For example, some people with cerebral palsy may only have motor impairments in their legs, so they’ll be able to speak just fine.
However, for those that do have speech impairments, speech therapy is necessary to optimize communication.
Communication difficulties can profoundly delay a child’s development. Being unable to voice when you can’t understand or need something can be very frustrating for the child.
This can result in behavioral issues and frequent emotional outbursts.
Many children with cerebral palsy also have hearing impairments, which greatly affects language development. When you can’t hear clearly, it’s difficult to understand others and respond accordingly.
Speech therapy can help identify a hearing impairment, but for an official diagnosis and treatment, your child will have to see an audiologist.
Dysarthria is the most common motor speech disorder in cerebral palsy patients. People with dysarthria have difficulty controlling the muscles in the mouth and generating enough breath to speak.
Other indicators to see a speech therapist include:
- Difficulty coming up with words
- Jumbled speech
- Poor pronunciation
- Inconsistent intonation
- Feeding difficulties
- Nasally voice
Speech disorders can vary from mild to severe. The more apparent your child’s speech disorder, the more time and speech therapy will be needed before improvement is noticeable.
What Happens at Speech Therapy for Cerebral Palsy?
Because every case of cerebral palsy is a little bit different, speech therapy will vary depending on the severity and type of speech impairment.
Your child could even have speech impairments that don’t have anything to do with their cerebral palsy.
However, cognitive disabilities and cerebral palsy do commonly co-occur.
Generally, speech problems related to cerebral palsy are going involve the muscles of the mouth while speech problems that occur due to other sources of brain damage will affect cognition.
Therefore, children with cerebral palsy and co-occurring cognitive difficulties tend to struggle with both motor control and language.
Various devices and tools may be used to capture your child’s attention and keep them challenged and engaged.
The exercises and activities a speech-language pathologist has your child perform will focus on developing the coordination of oral muscles and vocal functions necessary for effective speech.
These activities can be as simple as blowing bubbles or as challenging as reading passages and tongue twisters aloud.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and rewire itself. The best way to activate it is by performing lots of repetitions.
What all speech therapy exercises have in common is that they require a lot of practice.
When you learn an action for the first time, a new set of neural pathways fire.
The more you repeat the action, the stronger the neural pathways become and the better the brain gets at recognizing the action.
Speech Therapy Exercises
Let’s go over some exercises you may perform to improve oral motor functions at speech therapy.
1. Bite Block Training
Bite blocks are small blocks that you place between your upper and lower teeth to keep your mouth open.
They stabilize your jaw so that you can practice moving your tongue and lips.
For example, a speech-language pathologist may ask you to purse your lips together or move your tongue to the side.
Over time, the challenges will get more complex. You’ll gradually add sound to your tongue or lip movements and then practice without the bite block.
2. Vocal Conditioning
Vocal conditioning involves breaking up words into syllables and repeating specific sounds over and over.
For example, if the word is ‘candy’, you will break it up into 2 syllables: ‘can’ + ‘dy’.
Repeat each syllable 20 times. Then try putting them together and repeating the entire word 20 times.
Once you build enough of a vocabulary, you should try piecing sentences together.
3. Mirror Exercises
Children with cerebral palsy may not understand how to coordinate their mouth movements, which will prevent them from making the right sounds.
Have your child watch your mouth make a sound or say a word. Then, have them try to repeat the sounds while looking in a mirror.
Practicing in front of a mirror will help your child see how certain mouth movements will affect the sounds they make.
Daily Life After Speech Therapy for Cerebral Palsy
The outcomes of speech therapy for cerebral palsy aren’t limited to improving oral motor function and feeding skills.
Being able to effectively communicate with others is a huge milestone and it will definitely boost your child’s confidence.
This will empower them to contribute more to conversations, develop better relationships with friends and family, and participate more in social settings.
Speech therapy for cerebral palsy can dramatically improve your child’s quality of life and will allow you to better understand your child’s needs.