Speech disorders are common among those with cerebral palsy. In fact, a 2012 study conducted by Swedish researchers found that speech problems affect more than half of all children with cerebral palsy.
Some children with cerebral palsy have difficulty controlling the muscles in their face, throat, neck and head. This can lead to troubles with speech, chewing and swallowing. It can also cause drooling and affect overall ability to interact and learn. Those who also have difficulty hearing may have a hard time understanding spoken language.
Speech and language therapy seek to improve a child’s speech and communication by strengthening the muscles used for speech, increasing oral motor skills and by improving their understanding of speech and language. It also can help with swallowing disorders, like dysphagia.
Speech therapy can be very beneficial for children with cerebral palsy.
Children with cerebral palsy who have difficulty eating, chewing and swallowing may also have a problem with normal growth and maintaining a healthy weight. Speech therapy can help with these issues, making it easier for the child to get the proper nutrition and hydration they need. This can improve their overall quality of life and increase their independence.
Speech therapy can help with the following:
The benefits of speech therapy go beyond improving a child’s ability to understand and use language. Communication is very important to other areas of development, like cognitive development and social and emotional development. As the child learns to better express themselves, the benefits can be seen in many other aspects of their life and development. Speech therapy is beneficial because it can help:
Children with different types of cerebral palsy may face different communication problems, which speech therapy can help treat. Different speech issues as they relate to each different type of cerebral palsy include:
Speech therapy is different for every child with cerebral palsy. During the first session, the speech therapist will perform an initial assessment of the child’s physical and cognitive functioning. This assessment may include an examination of the child’s case history, an oral cavity exam, audiology tests, articulation assessments, language and fluency assessments and cognitive assessments.
After the original assessments, the speech therapist can then determine the child’s diagnosis and create a treatment plan. Treatment usually consists of exercises tailored to the child’s specific struggles with communication or swallowing. Assistive communication devices and sign language are often used to help the child express himself or herself. These are especially helpful in more severe cases, as when children are completely nonverbal.
Many different exercises are used in speech therapy. Each child’s treatment plan will be different based on their individual challenges and needs.
Some examples of common exercises for speech therapy include:
Speech therapists use a variety of different tools to help children with cerebral palsy improve or overcome their communication struggles. Assistive technology, or assistive devices, are also used as communication aids, especially for nonverbal children.
Tools commonly used in speech therapy include:
The following assistive devices are commonly used to help those with communication issues:
As the child gets older or improves their abilities, their speech therapy treatment plan must change accordingly. The first three years of a child’s life are extremely important for acquiring speech and language skills because their brain is developing and maturing, allowing it to easily absorb this information. Early intervention gives a child their best chance to develop and learn at their full potential.
Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists, are licensed health care professionals who specialize in the assessment and treatment of speech and language disorders as well as swallowing disorders.
Speech therapists often work closely with the child’s treatment team — which can also include physical therapists and occupational therapists — to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
When choosing a speech therapist, it’s important to find one with experience working with children who have cerebral palsy. If you need help finding a speech therapist, check with your child’s pediatrician, physical therapist or occupational therapist to see if they have any recommendations.
To learn more about how to locate a speech therapist, try downloading our free Cerebral Palsy Guide, which includes over 60 pages of in-depth information for children and parents of a child with CP.