Cerebral Palsy and Speech Therapy

Speech TherapyProfessional speech pathologists assess development and treat disorders, assisting with speech, language and swallowing difficulties.  Successful speech therapy improves communication and muscle control, correcting chewing and eating problems, as well as drooling, sometimes affecting cerebral palsy patients.

Speech refers to the ability to make sounds, while language is concerned with understanding and communicating ideas.  Speech therapists help cerebral palsy patients advance in both areas, guiding therapy to address the speech and language challenges of each patient.

How Does Speech Therapy Help Children with Cerebral Palsy?

Children’s speech and language development typically follows a pattern.  Those with cerebral palsy may not progress as predictably – calling for speech therapy intervention.  Speech problems include:

  • Articulation disorders – Cerebral palsy patients may experience poor oral-motor control and muscle weakness in the head, neck, face and throat. These conditions interfere with a child’s ability to make sounds, form syllables, and say words.  Pronounced articulation problems can make it difficult or impossible for others to understand a child’s speech.
  • Fluency disorders – Interruptions, such as stuttering, break the flow of speech, impeding communication and frustrating individuals affected by fluency disorders.
  • Voice disorders – Resonance problems and other voice disorders occur when cerebral palsy patients experience irregular pitch, volume control and voice quality. The condition makes it hard for children to interact, and may also cause pain or discomfort as a child speaks.
  • Dysarthria disorders – Cerebral palsy patients sometimes experience impaired movement of muscles that are used for speech production. These areas include the tongue, lips, and vocal folds. Some signs of Dysarthria include:
    • “Slurred” or “mumbled” speech which can be difficult to understand
    • Delayed rate of speech
    • Limited facial movement
    • Abnormal pitch or rhythmic speaking
  • Dysphagia disorders – Difficulty swallowing or digesting food from your mouth to stomach. Symptoms of Dysphagia include:
    • Having trouble swallowing or digesting food
    • Drooling
    • Regurgitation
    • Frequent Heartburn
    • Coughing and Gagging
  • Aphasia disorders – Referring to damage to the part of the brain that affects language and speech. Aphasia causes problems with speaking, writing, articulating, and listening. Symptoms of Aphasia disorders include:
    • Difficulty speaking
    • Difficulty understanding communication
    • Trouble reading or writing
    • Using other words for the intended word

In addition to problems producing sounds, syllables and phrases, cerebral palsy patients may face language difficulties, such as:

  • Receptive struggles – Processing and understanding language poses challenges for some cerebral palsy patients. Speech and language therapy reinforces cognitive and interpretive skills required to draw meaning from language and communication.
  • Expressive disorders – Difficulty putting words together to convey ideas may interfere with some patients’ ability to communicate effectively. Expressive disorders may also result in limited vocabulary and inappropriate use of language in social settings.
  • Cognitive-communication disorders – Language problems experienced by children with CP may include difficulty with communication skills involving, perception, memory, organization, problem solving and other cognitive functions.

Benefits of Speech Therapy

Speech therapy has widespread benefits for cerebral palsy patients.  Not only does the process improve communication interactions, but speech therapy can also be used to strengthen and improve facial and oral muscle control.

Dysphagia and oral feeding difficulties affect cerebral palsy patients in several ways.  The condition can include problems chewing, swallowing, gagging, coughing and drinking.  Maintaining healthy body weight and nutrition may present challenges for children with CP, including hydration concerns and questions about long-term physical development.

Feeding and swallowing therapy, conducted by trained speech and language pathologists, ensures physical challenges do not interfere with a child’s nutritional intake.

In addition to the needs on the patient, speech therapy accounts for parents, family members and caregivers. Symptoms of cerebral palsy are not consistent, so each family faces unique challenges; therapists seek their input before developing speech and language treatment plans.    Successful therapy contributes to ease of care and reduces stress on caregivers.

Communication is the essential bridge linking patients and caregivers.  Unfortunately, cerebral palsy sometimes interrupts a child’s ability to process, understand and respond in conventional ways.  Speech and language therapy repairs the disconnect, helping patients express their needs more clearly and easing pressure experienced by parents, teachers and family members.

Speech therapy supports development in these areas:

  • Producing sounds, words and syllables
  • Pitch
  • Regulating voice volume
  • Listening/perception
  • Articulation and pronunciation
  • Vocabulary
  • Understanding and comprehension
  • Voice quality
  • Chewing and swallowing

As communication skills improve, cerebral palsy patients gain confidence and participate in a wider range of activities.  Effective therapy supports cognitive and emotional development; reinforcing social skills and helping children with CP interact in diverse settings.  Speech therapy may lead to progress in these areas:

  • Confidence and self esteem
  • Desire to interact socially
  • Learning and communicating at school
  • Expressing thoughts and ideas
  • Independence
  • Problem-solving
  • Overall quality of life

Speech and Language Therapy Expectations

Speech-language pathologists (SLP) are credentialed medical professionals with special communication training.  The clinicians, informally referred-to as speech therapists, are concerned with language development, human communication and related disorders.

Before recommending speech and language exercises, an SLP conducts an assessment of each patient’s abilities and limitations.  Drawing from various therapeutic techniques, a course of treatment is then constructed, with clear therapy goals in mind.  Once appropriate intervention is undertaken, periodic review and testing furnish vital feedback – enabling speech pathologists to make adjustments to therapy.

Speech Therapy Exercises

Speech therapy employs various methods to address swallowing problems, increase oral-motor function, enhance understanding, and facilitate communication.  Techniques are recommended according to the unique needs of each patient.  Therapy may include:

  • Swallowing exercises – Swallowing and feeding therapy is designed to enhance oral-motor control. Speech therapists use various techniques to assist with swallowing, including facial massage and lip, tongue and jaw exercises.  Therapy strengthens face and jaw muscles used for eating, drinking and swallowing, and increases perceptive abilities.
  • Jaw, lip and tongue exercises – Muscle weakness and poor oral-motor coordination interferes with communication and feeding, posing socialization and nutrition issues for cerebral palsy patients. Assorted exercises strengthen lip, jaw and tongue muscles.  Lollipops and tongue depressors are used to create resistance, developing strength and control.  And eating extra-chewy foods may also be recommended, to build strength and train facial muscles.
  • Articulation therapy – Demonstrating proper technique is a big part of this type of speech therapy. Through repetitive exercises, speech pathologists show how the mouth and tongue work together, producing sounds, syllables and words.  Mirrors are often used to help a child learn facial control and visually illustrate progress.
  • Blowing and breathing exercises – Blowing on whistles helps train mouth muscles to form shapes needed for producing particular sounds. Blowing activities also strengthen abdominal muscles and help CP patients control breathing.
  • Language and word association – Speech therapists use pictures, books and objects to stimulate language development. While playing and talking with a child, for example, therapists model correct language and association patterns, prompting the child to build vocabulary and grammar skills.
  • Swallowing exercises – Swallowing and feeding therapy is designed to enhance oral-motor control. Speech therapists use various techniques to assist with swallowing, including facial massage and lip, tongue and jaw exercises.  Therapy strengthens face and jaw muscles used for eating, drinking and swallowing, and increases perceptive abilities.
  • Using Flash Cards – This fun and interactive game can help children and therapists focus on the sounds that they may have trouble with. Providing entertaining games helps keep patients involved and excited while learning.
  • Mirror Exercises  – This form of therapy helps children understand how movements of the mouth should be for certain sounding letters. This helps to improve this issue.

Menu