If a child with cerebral palsy has issues with communication and/or swallowing and breathing issues, speech therapy is generally recommended. This form of therapy offers a wide variety of exercises aimed to help children communicate better, while also addressing and helping in associated disorders that make speech more difficult.
What is Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy is a form of therapy to help people improve their speech skills so that they’ll be able to communicate more effectively. Children with cerebral palsy often have difficulties with speech, ranging from mild to severe. This is not to say that all children with cerebral palsy have speech issues. Yet, studies performed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH) shows that many children with cerebral palsy will experience some form of speech impairment.
A licensed speech therapist works closely with each child to develop the best individualized plan to help patients communicate more effectively. Speech therapists typically provide children with exercises that help them understand gestures, words, numbers, sounds, and more. Speech therapists also help children with breathing, swallowing, and digestion issues, all of which are common problems for children with cerebral palsy.
Speech Therapy Exercises
Exercises for speech improvement may include teaching the child sign language, communication through writing and painting, winking, voice synthesizers, picture boards, and using augmentative communication devices. These forms of treatment help children address and improve issues such as:
- Pronunciation skills
- Vocabulary development
- Listening skills
- Comprehension and formation of words
- Direct conversation engagement
- Mouth and throat issues
Speech therapy treatment will depend the results of the child’s complete physical assessment. Since each child is unique, they will have different needs, which will be determined during the assessment. The results of the assessment will allow the therapist to create an individualized plan for the child.
Speech Therapy and Swallowing Issues
Many children with cerebral palsy have a difficult time swallowing, known as dysphagia. Dysphagia occurs due to physiological and neurological disorders, as well as irregularities in the throat.
Speech therapists assist children the dysphagia by working to reduce the symptoms of the condition, which generally include choking on food and drinks, breathing difficulties, excessive coughing, and pulmonary aspiration. If dysphagia becomes severe, the child may develop dehydration and malnutrition.
Other Issues Addressed by Speech Therapy
Numerous conditions can lead to speech problems. The goals of a speech/language therapist is to address the associated conditions that cause speech issues in the first place, including:
- Intonation and rhythm issues
- Vocal tract problems
There are many associated disorders with aforementioned medical issues, which therapist will help try to prevent or reduce. Common associated disorders include:
- Easily choking on foods/liquids
- Extreme coughing
- Pulmonary aspiration
- Difficulties with breathing
- Dehydration and malnutrition (typically because of choking on foods/liquids)
Benefits of Speech Therapy
Communication is of course extremely important and also one of life’s most enjoyable experiences. It remains a big part of what shapes us into the personalities and people we become. It forms our experiences and influences us, and it’s a part of the larger human experience.
Children who have communications issues are already at a disadvantage, but with the proper interventions from qualified and professional speech therapists, theses issues can be dealt with in order to help the child communicate properly. The benefit of speech therapy is that the child will learn effective ways to communicate, which will help him/her throughout the course of life, including daily living and social activities.
Other benefits include:
- Interest development
- Ability to participate fully in school and home activities
- Better relationship development with friends, peers, and family
- Better socialization skills
- Ability to communicate ideas consistently and effectively
Who Conducts Speech Therapy?
Speech therapists, or speech pathologists, conduct speech therapy sessions. Speech pathologists generally hold a Master’s Degree in Speech and Language Pathology, and most states require that they get certified through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). In order to obtain ASHA certification, speech pathologists must complete numerous courses dealing with the throat, mouth, speech, psychology, social work, and more.