oral motor skills being practiced at home by a boy on his laptop

The Relationship Between Oral Motor Skills and Speech Clarity

The term “Oral Motor Skills” refers to the appropriate use and functioning of the facial muscles (lips, jaw, tongue, cheeks, and palate) to produce clear and correct speech. Building oral-motor skills is an essential part of developing a child’s communication abilities. Oral motor skills, when they are developing normally, begin in the womb and continue until the child reaches the age of 4.

While oral motor skills are often related to the ability to eat, drink, and swallow properly, these skills are also essential for effective and appropriate speech production. In some cases, children display weaknesses or deficits in their oral motor skills, which can have significant impacts on their speech. Speech-language pathologists (also referred to as speech therapists and SLPs) have the ability to help children improve in these areas by targeting specific muscles or movement patterns as part of treatment.

If you are concerned about your child’s oral motor skills and speech development or simply think they would benefit from speech therapy, get started by scheduling your free introductory call today!

What Are the Oral Motor Skills and Speech Development?

Communicating through speech is a complicated and multi-step process. When a child displays weakness in one of their articulators (for example, the tongue), their speech may sound unclear or somewhat slurred. Some children may have the necessary movement and strength of the muscles but will struggle to coordinate the order of sounds within words and syllables. The lips, tongue, cheeks, jaw, and soft palate must move quickly in cooperation with each other in order to produce speech. When there is a breakdown in the movement patterns and processes required for speech, either a motor speech disorder (such as apraxia and dysarthria) or a phonological disorder (challenges with the production of specific sounds) can develop.

The following lists the skills that are necessary for the proper functioning of all facial muscles:

Awareness
Strength
Coordination
Movement
Endurance

Who Needs Oral-Motor Exercises?

Some of the signs that your child might benefit from speech therapy and oral motor exercises include:

Speech sound errors
Delayed verbal language skills
At rest, the mouth is often in open position
The tongue often hangs out of the mouth
Drooling or excessive saliva secretion
Food frequently falls out of the mouth while feeding
Difficulty biting and chewing
Difficulty or inability to elevate or protrude the tongue
Coughing or choking often, especially when eating
Gagging when eating
Difficulty or inability to suck, lick, chew, or blow
Oral sensory issues or the preference for specific food textures

If you have noticed that any of the above-listed challenges have been ongoing in your child, it is highly recommended that you consult with a speech-language therapist. Connecting with one of our SLPs is as easy as scheduling your free introductory call today!

Do Oral Motor Exercises Improve Speech Production?

While oral motor exercises can help increase the strength of the muscles that are required for speech production, in most cases, they alone are not enough to improve speech clarity significantly. These exercises will target only one element of many that are required for speech production and thus must be accompanied by other exercises and approaches.

In order to improve speech production, speech must be practiced regularly. A speech therapy treatment plan for a child with deficits in their oral motor skills will likely include oral motor exercises alongside other methods to encourage and promote the development of strong communication skills.

What are the Oral Motor Exercises for Speech Clarity?

Oral motor exercises are specially designed ‘workouts’ that aim to increase the control, coordination, and strength of the oral muscles. Oral motor exercises are part of speech therapy, which is a continuous process. Both children and adults benefit from oral-motor exercises.

An initial evaluation will help to determine the appropriate approach to therapy for each individual. The speech pathologist will likely use oral motor exercises, as well as various breathing exercises and articulation treatment, to promote clearer speech.

Oral motor exercises are designed to meet the individual’s unique needs and skills. These exercises will begin at the most basic level and then progress to more challenging exercises. Speech therapy progresses in a step-by-step nature, with particular emphasis on oral motor exercises, speaking, and breathing. The individuals’ ability to sequence and coordinate their oral motor activity, speech, and breathing will improve as a result of this therapy. The main goal of treatment is commonly to improve effective communication, enabling the individual to reach their full potential.

Below are four simple and effective oral motor exercises for children:

Blowing Bubbles – Simply blowing bubbles can have major benefits for improving strength in the lip and cheek muscles. Children love bubbles, and they will find this exercise fun without realizing it is part of therapy.

Drinking From a Straw – This works on strengthening all aspects of the mouth and is something that should be introduced by or before one year of age.

Making Funny Faces – Making funny faces requires the child to stretch and contort their facial features, which in turn requires the articulator muscles to increase their strength.

Lollipops – Yes, even candy can be an effective part of oral motor exercises and speech therapy. The therapist will ask the child to lick the lollipop in different positions with their tongue, promoting strength in the tongue muscles. Tongue exercises are highly important for oral motor skills in speech therapy.

Is Oral-Motor Speech Therapy Effective?

Practicing oral-motor exercises will help greatly improve a child’s ability to produce speech sounds with improved clarity and ease. However, not all children will benefit from stand-alone oral motor exercises, and many often require additional Speech-Language therapy. If you are concerned about your child’s speech-language development, connect with a Speech-Language Therapist as soon as possible. Get started with Great Speech by scheduling your free introductory call today!