A woman with cerebral palsy sitting at a table

Speech Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy refers to a group of disorders that affect the ability to move and maintain posture and balance. It is common for individuals with cerebral palsy to frequently have difficulties speaking and understanding language. Through the help and support of an experienced speech therapist, as well as the ongoing support of family members and care providers, individuals with cerebral palsy (also referred to as CP) can improve their communication skills and participate more meaningfully in the world.

The goal of speech therapy for individuals with cerebral palsy is to help them improve a variety of processes and functions that require the oral motor muscles, particularly speaking and breathing. Recent research revealed that more than 40% of children with cerebral palsy experience a communication difficulty of some kind.

In this article, we will explore how speech is affected by cerebral palsy, how speech therapy targets oral motor impairments related to cerebral palsy, as well as the goals and techniques used in speech therapy sessions.

Help for speech challenges connected with cerebral palsy is available through speech therapy. Getting support for yourself or a loved one starts by scheduling your free introductory calls today!

How Cerebral Palsy Affects Speech

Not every individual with cerebral palsy will require speech therapy, as the condition can impact motor control throughout the body. This means that some individuals with CP may only be affected in their legs, a single limb, or only one side of the body.

In many cases, the muscles required for speech (also referred to as the articulator muscles or articulators) are affected, making such functions as chewing, speaking, swallowing, and breathing difficult.

What is the Most Common Speech Disorder in Cerebral Palsy?

The most common speech disorder in individuals with cerebral palsy is Dysarthria. Individuals affected by dysarthria typically experience difficulty with muscle control in the mouth, as well as generating enough breath to produce speech.

Because of this, they may experience:

  • Poor Pronunciation
  • Stuttering
  • Jumbled Speech
  • Inconsistencies in Tone and Volume
  • Nasally Sounding Voice

These speech challenges can significantly affect quality of life, as well as cause high stress levels and significant communication difficulties. Speech therapy is essential for strengthening the oral motor muscles and improving communication skills.

Goals of Speech Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

The main goal of speech therapy for cerebral palsy is to improve overall communication skills. This is accomplished through a speech-language pathologist’s use of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the central nervous system to create adaptive changes and reorganize itself based on specific behaviors. As is the case with all skills, the secret to consistent improvements is practice. Regularly practicing certain skills helps to stimulate the brain and reinforce the demand for the movement or task performed.

During speech therapy sessions, an experienced speech-language pathologist will begin by assessing the communication skills of the individual and develop a customized treatment program with the aim of helping develop stronger control of the oral motor muscles. In addition, the speech-language pathologist will ensure the individual maintains their engagement and motivation by offering increasingly challenging tasks and exercises.

Speech therapy can help address a wide variety of communication challenges and can benefit individuals of all ages. Getting started is as easy as scheduling your free introductory call today!

How Effective is Speech Therapy for Cerebral Palsy? Can People with Cerebral Palsy Talk Normally?

Like many other conditions, cerebral palsy encompasses a broad spectrum of motor impairments that can vary in severity. Because each individual with CP experiences the condition differently, a personalized treatment plan through speech therapy is the best option.

In cases of milder speech impairments, speech therapy might focus on enhancing and supporting natural speech and language. Treatment for individuals with more severe challenges, however, might involve learning to use alternative forms of communication, including synthetic speech devices, writing, or gestures.

Speech therapy aims to help individuals with cerebral palsy to improve:

  • Speech Production
  • Comprehension
  • Listening
  • Breathing
  • Effective Use of Alternative or Augmentative Communication Systems
  • Expressive Language Skills
  • Voice Quality

In addition to improved communication abilities, learning to effectively communicate with others can help boost confidence. This increased confidence can lead to contributing more to conversations, developing stronger relationships with family and friends, and participating more in social situations. These benefits combined mean a significant improvement in their quality of life.

Speech and language pathologists are also able to help improve some cognitive skills, such as memory, attention, and understanding and following directions. While brain damage caused by cerebral palsy does not cause cognitive deficits directly, some more severe cases of CP may result in cognitive impairments that could be addressed through speech therapy.

Speech Therapy Exercises for Individuals with Cerebral Palsy

Some of the most commonly used speech therapy techniques for improving communication skills in those with cerebral palsy include:

Bite Block Training – A bite block is a small block that is placed between the upper and lower teeth to keep the mouth in an open position. Stabilizing the jaw with the bite block allows the individual to practice movements of their lips and tongue. Over time, the movements will increase in difficulty, eventually adding a sound to the movements and finally practicing these movements and sounds without the bite block.

Vocal Conditioning – Vocal conditioning is simply the act of breaking words down into syllables and repeating the particular sounds again and again.

Mirror Exercises – Individuals with cerebral palsy often struggle to understand how they should coordinate the movements of their mouth, which prevents them from accurately producing the correct sounds. The speech therapist may model the correct movements and then ask the individual to ‘mirror’ the movements and sound. Practicing certain sounds and movements in front of a mirror can also be helpful for seeing how various movements of the mouth affect certain sounds.

Speech therapy helps individuals with cerebral palsy to overcome oral motor impairments and become more effective and confident communicators. Adaptive changes in the brain are solidified by consistently practicing specific techniques and exercises that engage and strengthen the oral motor muscles. If you want to learn more about how speech therapy can help improve communication skills in individuals with cerebral palsy or simply want to get started with Great Speech, connect with us by scheduling your free introductory call now!