oral motor dysfunction | Bliss Speech Dallas

What You Should Know About Oral Motor Dysfunction

As children grow, they learn and master a wide variety of developmental skills, including oral motor skills. Children must learn how to move the muscles that control their jaws, tongues, lips, cheeks and other parts of their mouths. Mastering these oral motor skills allows children to eat and speak properly.

While children start developing their oral motor skills at a very early age, they aren’t fully developed until around age six or seven, reports The Journal of the Faculty of Medicine. If you think your child’s oral motor skills are lagging behind those of their same aged peers, you may become concerned. Does your child have an oral motor dysfunction, and if so, how can you help them?

Types Of Oral Motor Disorders

“Oral motor dysfunction” is a very broad term, and it may include several different oral motor disorders. Some of these disorders affect speech, while others affect eating.

There are two main oral motor disorders that affect speech, explains Northwestern University: apraxia of speech and dysarthria. Children with apraxia of speech have trouble coordinating the muscles that are necessary for speech. Children with dysarthria have weak or uncoordinated speech muscles that make speaking difficult.

Eating may be affected by dysphagia. Dysphagia is technically a symptom, not a disorder. If having dysphagia, it means that a child would have trouble feeding or swallowing. This difficulty may result in food or drinks getting into the lungs (aspiration), warns Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Possible Causes Of Oral Motor Dysfunction

There are many possible causes of oral motor dysfunction in children. This dysfunction may be associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, reports the Handbook of Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It may also be associated with conditions that cause impaired muscle function, such as Down syndrome, mitochondrial disease or congenital hypotonia. Children who have structural abnormalities affecting the head or face, such as Pierre Robin Syndrome or cleft palate, may also have oral motor dysfunction. Other possible factors associated with oral motor dysfunction include neurological conditions, like cerebral palsy or hydrocephalus.

Doctors are not always sure why children have oral motor dysfunction. This is often the case for kids who have apraxia of speech, explains Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. While not knowing the cause of the dysfunction can be distressing, rest assured that treatments are still available in these situations.

Signs Of Oral Motor Dysfunction

Possible signs of oral motor dysfunction can vary from one child to another. Parents of affected children may notice some or all of the following symptoms.

  • Difficulty swallowing food items or drinks
  • Difficulty sucking from bottles or through straws
  • Preference for soft, easily chewed foods
  • Refusal to eat hard or chewy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables or meats
  • Holding the mouth/lips open
  • Eating slowly
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Coughing, choking or gagging during mealtimes
  • Difficulty saying long or complex words
  • Excessive mouth movement during speech
  • Switching, adding or omitting syllables from words
  • Slurred or slow speech
  • Speech that is difficult to understand

If you notice any of these signs or other problems with feeding or speech, consult with your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible. A pediatrician can help guide you in the right direction to help, determine the cause of your child’s symptoms, can recommend appropriate treatment options, and can provide referrals. Treatment often includes speech therapy.

How Speech Therapy Services Can Help

After conducting a complete assessment to determine the extent of your child’s oral motor weakness, a speech-language pathologist can recommend a treatment plan. Therapy goals are based on a child’s individual needs and can vary significantly from one child to another.

Speech therapy sessions may involve repeatedly saying certain words, phrases or sounds until they get easier to form and correctly pronounce. A technique called “co-production” may be used during this process. During co-production, you are asked to speak at the same time as your child. Another strategy utilized in treatment would involve simplified output making words or phrases easier to say in order to build success in productions.

Speech therapy sessions may also involve exercises to help the  child strengthen the muscles utilized when eating or speaking. Your child may also be given exercises to help improve the range-of-motion or coordination of these muscles.

Understandably, children with oral motor dysfunction may demonstrate resistance to speaking or feeding. Attending speech therapy sessions may help a child  learn strategies to overcome these challenges and become more comfortable with speaking or eating. During this process, your child’s speech therapist may suggest things for you to work on at home to help your child to become more comfortable. This may include  experimenting with different types of foods or providing different utensils at mealtimes. This may also include practicing sounds and words at home.

Depending on the severity of a child’s oral motor weakness, speech therapy services  can last for up to several years. Therapy sessions may be recommended frequently as repetition is critical to the success in therapy sessions to address oral motor dysfunction. To help your child achieve as much progress as possible, stay involved in their treatment process. Therapy sessions are often covered by many of the major insurance companies, making them more affordable.

If you think your child’s oral motor skills are lacking, discuss this with your child’s pediatrician and/or seek out a speech/language pathologist to  set up a speech and language evaluation. Your child may have an oral motor dysfunction that can be treated with speech therapy. Contact Bliss Speech & Hearing Services to learn more about how a speech therapist can help your child.

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