Speech and Language Therapy for Cerebral Palsy
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a broad term used to refer to a group of various disorders that impact an individual’s ability to move. It is caused by damage to the brain during pregnancy or soon after birth. Symptoms vary widely, depending on the part of the brain that received the damage and the extent of the damage. Symptoms include limited muscle coordination or control, poor muscle tone and posture, reduced reflexes, and difficulty with balance. Additionally, patients with cerebral palsy may also have impairments associated with their vision, hearing, learning, or speech.
How Does Cerebral Palsy Affect Speech?
Cerebral palsy can affect a patient’s ability to physically produce the sounds and motions required to speak. There are a number of conditions which can be addressed by a speech and language pathologist, including:
- Aphasia – the partial or complete loss of verbal expression
- Articulation disorders – omitting or adding sounds to words, or distorting sounds
- Dysarthria – abnormal muscle tone in facial muscles
- Dysphagia – breathing and swallowing disorders which can make speech difficult
- Dyspraxia – the inability to consistently and effectively produce words due to lack of muscle coordination
- Dysprosody – a disruption in the cadence and timing of speech
- Phonation disorders – difficulties with pitch
- Prosodic issues – difficulties with rhythm and intonation
- Resonance disorders – difficulties with airflow
- Stuttering – repetitive interruptions in the flow of speech
How Does Cerebral Palsy Affect Language?
In addition to the physical act of speaking, cerebral palsy can also limit a patient’s ability to comprehend and utilize language effectively. In order to combat this, the speech therapist may work on a number of issues, including:
- Conversational skills
- Vocabulary development
- Word comprehension
- Word formation
- Word-object association
How Can Speech Therapy Help Non Verbal Patients?
Some patients with cerebral palsy have more extensive damage to the centers of the brain that control speech and language and are not able to speak at all. However, this does not mean they lack the ability to think and communicate. These patients can be given tools to assist in creating artificial speech, such as:
- Computer based aids
- Picture boards
- Sign language
- Tablet based aids
- Voice synthesizers
When Should Speech Therapy Begin?
Speech and language acquisition therapy usually begins soon after a child receives a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. It may begin while the child is an infant, and progress along with the child’s developmental goals. Studies indicate that the success of therapy is directly related to how soon it is introduced into the child’s daily regimen. Therefore, therapy should begin as soon as possible for optimal results. While it may seem insignificant in the beginning, as no infants speak, it is actually during this time that the groundwork for speech is being laid. Also, children with cerebral palsy often have other physical issues that can be addressed by the therapist which will later facilitate language and speech development. If therapy is delayed, there are often patterns and habits that have to be overcome before progress can be made.