When a birth injury occurs or when babies are born with problems that prevent them from developing and thriving as they should, they may undergo a special type of therapy known as speech pathology. In many instances, these babies exhibit feeding issues. In turn, they may undergo speech pathology in order to learn to feed properly. In other instances, children with disorders such as cerebral palsy, autism, and other debilitating conditions may benefit from speech pathology by learning techniques on how to communicate properly.
What is Infant Speech Pathology?
Infant speech pathology is a form of therapy in which an infant learns how to feed properly and/or learns to develop better communication skills. A certified speech-language pathologist (SLP) help infants learn to feed and learn communication skills in a number of ways. In addition, nutritionists, nurses, lactation consultants, physical therapists, and physicians may all play a part in the speech pathology treatment plan. Toddlers and children with speech problems are also treated by SLPs and can learn effective communication skills via a variety of therapy and learning options.
Infant Speech Pathology and Feeding
Speech pathology for feeding issues can begin as early as birth, after a problem with feeding is recognized. Infants who have difficulties with feeding may benefit greatly from infant speech pathology, but before beginning treatment, they usually undergo an in-depth oral motor and swallowing evaluation to determine the kind of feeding issues, how severe the problems are, and how the problems were caused.
After doing a readiness assessment on pre-feeding and a oral motor and swallowing evaluation, infant speech pathology may include:
- Practice oral stimulation with infants who cannot yet bottle or breast feed.
- Utilize feeding interventions to help improve skills
- Individualized treatment plans
- Feeding and dysphagia therapy
- Parent and caregiver education.
- Feeding and dysphagia therapy
- Tube weening (for infants who are being fed through a tube)
- Specialized activities that help babies learn to bottle and/or breast feed
- Stimulation activities to promote the early development of speech
What Are The Signs That an Infant is Having Feeding Problems?
Before referring infants to speech pathology, there are generally a number of signs to look out for. These types of problems can be identified in numerous ways, including:
- Coughing, gagging, and/or choking during feeding sessions
- Lacking alertness during feeding sessions
- Poor weight gain
- Poor growth
- Crying and pulling away from the bottle or breast during feeding sessions
- Excessive drooling
- Spitting up and/or vomiting frequently
- Low or hoarse voice when crying
Benefits of Infant Speech Pathology for Feeding Issues
There are a number of benefit for infants with feeding problems who undergo speech therapy, including:
- Weight gain
- Improved swallowing function
- Ability to feed better
- More alert when feeding
Infant Speech Pathology Evaluations
As mentioned earlier, babies generally go through evaluations prior to starting speech pathology. Evaluations are important as they help to assess how severe the infant’s feeding and swallowing issues are. During an evaluation, physicians will:
- Review the infant’s medical records, including feeding intake, overall growth since birth, and feeding issues symptoms
- Examine the baby’s mouth and throat to observe the strength of the muscles
- Identify risk factors that may be causing feeding issues
- Ensure that a true medical condition is causing feeding issues (as opposed to normal developmental stages that may hinder feeding)
Speech Pathology for Children with Speech Disorders
Speech disorders can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, speech problems occur in toddlers and children with autism, cerebral palsy, a cleft lip/palate, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and for those who had a brain injury or stroke. Dysarthria and apraxia also cause speech problems.
Speech pathology for toddlers and children with speech disorders require individualized assessments and treatments as each case is different and each case may stem from different disorders. As a result, treatments may vary. However, the most common forms of treatment include:
- For apraxia, the PROMPT technique may be utilized, which entails touching cues to the mouth, tongue, and jaw to promote targeted phrases or words
- Cognitive training
- Auditory processing treatment
- Voice disorder treatment
- Augmentative communication therapy
- Audio and verbal therapy
- Articulation therapy
- Language intervention activities
Prior to treatments, patients will undergo an evaluation to determine what issues are causing the speech problems. Generally, an evaluation consists of:
- Receptive, expressive, and pragmatic language evaluations
- An oral peripheral exam
- Voice fluency evaluation
- Feeding and swallowing evaluation
How Can I Tell if My Child Needs Speech Pathology For Speech Issues?
There are various signs that indicate a infant/toddler/child may need speech pathology. It’s important, however, not to confuse speech problems with normal developmental delays. In general, however, some of the most common signs of speech delay include:
Infants (3-12 months):
- Doesn’t babble or interact with others
- Doesn’t smile
- Doesn’t make many sounds
- Doesn’t wave or point
- Doesn’t respond to sounds (may indicate a hearing issue)
Toddlers (1-3 years of age):
- Has a difficult time understanding what others say
- Fails to say complete sentences
- Only knows a few words
- Trouble talking and playing with other kids
- Excessive stuttering
- Consistently fails to follow easy directions
What are the Benefits of Speech Pathology For Speech Problems?
Fortunately, speech pathology helps most toddlers and children articulate themselves better when communicating. Keep in mind that each child is different and may benefit differently. Other benefits include:
- Improvement in understanding and expressing ideas and thoughts
- Increase in the ability to solve problems
- More fluent in speech
- Improvement in vocal quality
- Better self-esteem, mostly due to the ability of increased speech performance
Drawbacks of Speech Pathology
Although there are numerous benefits to speech therapy, there are a few drawbacks that you should be aware of. One of the major drawbacks is the amount of time needed. Along with numerous medical sessions, the lessons learned in speech pathology must also be practiced at home under a parent’s care as well when going out or in daycare or school.
In addition, in rare cases, speech pathology may not work, despite the various treatments used. In these instances, toddlers or children may need to try other forms of communications, such as a communication system.