Oral Motor Difficulties
Oral motor skills are critical to basic functions that occur even when children are asleep, such as controlling secretions, swallowing, and maintaining alignment of the mouth and throat so that breathing is not impaired. Oral motor skills impact basic survival such as sucking and swallowing. Development of these skills enhance the progression from breast milk or formula, then to pureed foods, and on to table foods, as well as the skills needed to progress from sucking a nipple, to using a wide variety of utensils, including straws, cups, spoons, and forks.
Oral skills also impact the control needed for speech development, from producing the cooing sounds, to articulating complex words in conversational speech. Poor oral motor skills can result in delayed or reduced skill development. The child may be described as hypersensitive, a lazy talker or a picky or messy eater. Problems such a drooling, bruxism (tooth grinding) and gagging may also occur.
Exercises for the mouth, or what some Speech & Language Pathologists call "oral motor exercises", are a prominent component of intervention. The activities, which may include sucking thickened drinks through straws, blowing cotton balls, horns and "windmills", chewing plastic and rubber objects, licking peanut butter from around the mouth, and playing with oral motor tools and toys.
Practicing non-speech movements (sucking, blowing, chewing, biting, tongue waggles, etc) will not impact on speech. But, sometimes, with very young or hesitant children who are wary about participating verbally, the therapist will encourage 'oral play' and experimenting with the articulators and exploratory sound play. This is done as a sort of lead in to working on speech. What is more, it is often the only way to help the reticent or apprehensive child. This oral play is presented as a fun thing. The child is encouraged to watch, imitate, and gradually become a little braver. Vocalization is quickly added, and these vocalizations are turned into meaningful vocabulary as soon as possible, and at syllable level if possible, - even if the vocabulary is only "hi", "no", "bye" and "boo!" at first. In order to improve speech you have to work with the child's speech. This means helping the child to hear and say sounds, syllables, words, and longer utterances. Our Pediatric Speech-language pathologists are uniquely qualified to work with children with "Oral Motor" difficulties.