A cleft palate is one of the most treatable conditions newborns occasionally suffer from, but parents are naturally concerned about the long-term impact on their child's happiness, appearance, speech and dental health. Minor surgery is often recommended to correct the affected area, and follow-ups include speech monitoring and speech therapy. Cleft palate speech therapy, in particular, helps eliminate potential problems so that your child grows up speaking clearly and confidently.
How Cleft Palate Affects Speech
Cleft palate is an opening in the oral structures such as the lips and the roof of the mouth. To speak, explains the Cleft Palate Foundation, your build up air pressure in your mouth, and to create certain sounds you touch your tongue to various oral structures – including the roof of the mouth (or palate). In children with this condition, air escapes into the nasal passages, making it difficult to build up pressure. There also isn't enough tissue in the palate for the tongue to touch. Unfortunately, kids can suffer language delays and other speech problems whether or not the condition is corrected with surgery; babies with cleft palate are often late in developing coherent speech patterns, and the delay can continue for several years after treatment. Children whose front teeth don't line up properly can struggle to articulate certain sounds, such as "s" and "sh."
Speech therapists monitor children with cleft palate for speech problems, errors as they appear and other difficulties that need correcting. Cleft palate can also yield speech patterns that are difficult for others to understand, affecting their interactions with the people around them, according to SMILES Craniofacial Support Group. Surgical treatment is often performed at an early age, but difficulties with speech can still develop after surgery. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) suggests not all children with cleft palate need full speech therapy, but they should be given consistent attention.
Speech therapy for cleft palate can include the use of appliances, fun games, exercises and drills. ASHA mentions that some teams use a temporary speech appliance to guide a child's speech. Another method of treatment may be to teach the child how to distinguish air passing through the nose from air passing through the mouth. At the University of Iowa Children's Hospital, kids can use a fun, computer-based system called a Nasometer, which offers a set of motivational games that provide visual feedback on the nasality of his or her speech. Speech therapists also teach children articulation drills to practice making sounds correctly.
Supporting Your Child
Babies and children learn to speak through imitating those around them, and there is plenty at a person's disposal to support kids with cleft palate. It's especially important for new parents to talk to their baby frequently and encourage him to speak to them. This includes vocal play through songs, rhymes, word games such as I-Spy and stories that require the child to repeat phrases. Between speech therapy sessions, parents can help their children complete any practice instructions the therapist provides, talk frequently with their children and act as role models of clear speech. In the process, parents can encourage their children to continue taking care of their mouths by providing oral hygiene care items specifically for children.
In partnership with parents, friends and family members, speech therapists help children with cleft palate express themselves in the same ways as their peers, allowing them to interact and form friendships like everyone else. Cleft palate speech therapy offers a bright, confident future for children with this condition.