Improving Speech and Communication for your Child with Cerebral Palsy

Children with Cerebral Palsy often experience speech problems as a result of poor control over the muscles in their face, neck, and throat. This can impede their ability to learn and interact and also cause problems with swallowing. An important component of the treatment for Cerebral Palsy thus involves strengthening the face and neck muscles through physiotherapy and speech therapy. Read on to know more about speech therapy and how it can benefit your child with Cerebral Palsy.

Understanding Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy refers to a group of neurological disorders that affect movement, muscle tone, coordination, and motor skills, caused by damage or abnormalities in the developing brain. Children with Cerebral Palsy often experience stiffness, contractures, or lack of control in their muscles, which affects their ability to move, speak, and swallow. The best treatment for Cerebral Palsy involves a combination of stem cell therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy to help the child function as independently as possible.

Benefits of speech therapy for Cerebral Palsy

Children with Cerebral Palsy struggle to control their face and neck muscles. This can lead to a variety of speech related problems such as slurred speech, drooling, difficulty in controlling breathing, and difficulty in swallowing. Apart from hindering the ability to communicate, these problems can be potentially dangerous if the child is unable to swallow food properly, as the food may get stuck in their throat or go down the windpipe.
This is where speech therapy comes in. Speech therapists teach your child special exercises to improve control over the muscles involved in speaking and swallowing. This allows them to eat safely and obtain the nutrition and hydration they need to stay healthy.

Speech therapy also focuses on correcting the child’s communication problems, including:

  • Sound and word formation
  • Stuttering
  • Poor articulation
  • Speech volume
  • Breath control
  • Word comprehension and association
  • Vocabulary development

The better a child is able to communicate, the stronger their cognitive abilities become. As children learn to express themselves effectively, they adjust better to social environments, and also develop emotionally as they gain confidence in themselves. Over time, speech therapy can help a child with Cerebral Palsy overcome shyness, ask for what they want, improve their problem-solving ability, enhance their ability to socialize, and boost their self-esteem. 

Exercises commonly used in speech therapy for Cerebral Palsy

As part of the treatment process, your child’s therapist will conduct an assessment to determine what abilities your child currently has and how exactly they could benefit from speech therapy. The assessment could involve an oral exam, tests of articulation and fluency, audiology tests, cognitive tests, and so on. Subsequently, the therapist will select exercises tailored to your child’s specific difficulties with speaking and swallowing. 
Some of the Speech Therapy exercises the therapist might recommend for your child include:

  • Breathing exercises to strengthen the diaphragm, and control the inhalation and exhalation process
  • Jaw exercises to help with foods that require extra chewing, such as carrots or apples
  • Blowing exercises such as whistling or bubble blowing, to strengthen the abdominal muscles and to learn how to produce certain sounds
  • Swallowing exercises to enable safe eating practices, such as effortful swallowing (where the child swallows a mouthful of liquid or saliva at one gulp) or the masako maneuver (where the child sticks the tongue out and puts gentle pressure on it with the teeth)
  • Tongue exercises such as pressing the tongue against a spoon or depressor for several seconds at a go, to strengthen the tongue muscles
  • Lip strengthening exercises, such as putting or squeezing one’s lips around a lollipop
  • Articulation therapy to teach children how to make certain sounds, including practising before a mirror and using language cards as a guide
  • Language and word association for children who are more advanced in their speaking skills, with the help of flash cards to show children how certain words go together, like ‘sock’ and ‘shoe’, or ‘chips’ and ‘dip’

In addition, if the child is non-verbal or has extreme difficulty speaking, the therapist can teach them how to use tablets, augmentative devices, flash cards, or sign language to communicate their wants and needs.
When choosing the right speech therapist for your child, it is essential to pick someone experienced in Cerebral Palsy and its associated challenges. They will typically work with the child’s occupational therapist and physiotherapist to come up with a comprehensive all-in-one treatment plan. The sooner your child starts attending speech therapy, the sooner they will gain the skills they need to express themselves, and as a result, become confident.

Dr Na'eem Sadiq is a respected stem cell specialist at Plexus, and a prominent neurologist in Bangalore. He studied neurology and clinical neurophysiology in London, and worked with some of the most prestigious medical institutions in England, and the Middle East. He completed his MBBS at Bellary Government Medical College, and a postgraduate degree in psychiatry from NIMHANS in Bangalore.

Dr Na'eem has perfected his knowledge and expertise in Continuing medical education (CME), and training in tissue culture, Stem Cell Therapy, and neurology. Dr Na'eem Sadiq possesses an undying passion to improve people’s lives. This led to the creation of Plexus, a neuro and Stem Cell Research centre in Bangalore in neurosurgery, and neurorehabilitation.