Oral Motor Speech Therapy

This is a controversial topic among speech therapists but not among speech researchers! Oral motor speech therapy is divided into speech oral motor therapy, which is researched-backed, and non-speech oral motor therapy—pure nonsense. Let’s start with the term oral motor, which is an ambiguous term to begin with. Speech sound disorders (articulation and phonological disorders) is the up-to-date nomenclature.

Speech therapists, who incorporate non-speech oral motor techniques, learn about them at professional trainings, post-graduation, when trends are prioritized over science. The content of these professional trainings are not endorsed by the American Speech Hearing Association (ASHA). The majority (85% according to Dr. Грегг Лофс research) of speech therapists use ineffective protocols when diagnosing or treating “oral motor” speech problems—pretty scary! Unfortunately, there is a lack of quality post-graduate support in our field.

I have seen so many children misdiagnosed and, as a result, receive ineffective speech treatment. In essence, when working on speech sounds (speech oral-motor), effective therapy always includes the production or shaping of a sound (close your lips and say “mmm” to teach /m/ or if the child is omitting a final “p” in words, the clinician helps the child say final “p” in short words, e.g. “hop”, “top”, “mop”, etc.). Working on sounds during speech therapy is natural and a no-brainer because it includes facilitating motor planning (agility), mouth strength, and linguistics. All of these underlying neurological processes need to be activated at once—that’s how we speak!

Non-speech oral motor exercises are purported to strengthen muscles and improve muscle tone, including blowing whistles, sucking straws, and chewing on chewy tubes. It does not involve working on actual sounds. It may improve general oral mouth muscle or tone, but there is NO scientific evidence that it actually improves speech. Yep, none! Our mouths are used for a variety of functions (breathing, drinking, chewing, swallowing, etc.), and the more you know about the science of speech therapy, the more this makes sense.

Speech is special! We actually use minimal muscle strength to talk. Tone is important when the speech muscles are at rest. Strength is important for chewing, not talking. Speech-learning is primarily based on agility (motor planning, think of a ventriloquist), cognition, and linguistics—all brain-based! Other animals vocalize but can’t talk; the differences reside in our brains, not our mouths! That’s the beauty of evolution.

An analogy, for example, would be to perform finger strength exercises to become a better piano player. Strong fingers and lack of actual piano practice is the equivalent of non-speech oral motor therapy. Would you hire a piano teacher to work only on strengthening your child’s finger muscles? Non-speech oral motor techniques have nothing to do with speaking, e.g. chewing on chewy tubes, moving your articulators in ways in which we don’t speak, drinking from special straws, etc. Speech scientists strongly advise that speech therapists focus on techniques that facilitate shaping and/or producing sounds for a given language.

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«Мы часто получаем рукописи, в которых люди продвигают идеи и теории без адекватных данных, обычно в поисках личной славы или денежной выгоды. Хотя рецензируемая медицинская литература не лишена недостатков, нет лучшего способа, чем рецензирование, чтобы проверить информацию, прежде чем она будет использована для диагностики и лечения заболеваний. По крайней мере, в медицине, мы должны тщательно подумать, прежде чем решить, что больше нефильтрованной информации - это лучшая информация ».
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