Cleft Lip and Palate - Where to Start?
Cleft lip and/or palate is a condition involving the separation of one or two areas in the oral cavity, and this condition can have a profound structural impact on speech and feeding at the earliest stages of development. Clefts occur in roughly 1 out of 750 live births (Bilinguistics). While there are many members of a care team in cases of cleft lip and palate, possibly including plastic surgeons, dentists, ear nose and throat doctors, nurses, and audiologists, a speech therapist's role is to check on feeding skills along with speech and language development.
If a child has only a cleft lip, they will likely be able to breastfeed or use a typical bottle. However, in cases involving a cleft palate, special bottles and feeding techniques may be required to accommodate changes in the oral feeding physiology.
To articulate typical speech sounds, children must learn to use their lips and soft palate among other articulators to produce age-appropriate sounds. In the case of the soft palate, children need to learn how to move the palate to the back of the throat to close off the nasal cavity and produce sounds through the mouth; however, this level of control may be difficult in the case of a cleft. Only the sounds "m" and "n" require that the soft palate remain open. Because clefts lead to air loss, maintaining a sufficient pressure to produce sound is often difficult. Speech therapists often heavily target consonant placement and vowel expansion with an emphasis on expanding available air used in speaking to counteract pressure losses. Imitation activities are often an early and reliable form of therapy in the cases of a cleft.
Have more questions about speech or feeding therapy for a child with cleft lip and/or palate? Reach out to a Sidekick therapist today!
Bilinguistics (n.d.) Cleft Palate Speech Therapy Techniques: CLP Team Tips - Bilinguistics