The Importance of Speech Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy Therapies, Patient Care

young black girl with cerebral palsy in speech therapy session with black female therapist

Many children with cerebral palsy experience some level of challenge with speech. Their challenges could be due to cognitive delays and learning disorders or might be the result of damage to the area of the brain that facilitates speech.

Augmentative communication devices have opened doors and given new lives to many individuals, providing a means of speech communication for those who would otherwise have no means of expressing themselves and their needs. Thankfully, speech therapists and augmentative devices are common today and can help almost any child communicate in some way with the world around him or her.

The Basics of Speech Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

Speech therapy is the treatment of communication disorders, regardless of the origin. Therapists that work in the field of communication disorders are known as speech therapists and speech-language pathologists. Therapy can consist of a series of exercises and drills to strengthen the muscles involved in speech and improve oral motor skills needed for speech as well as swallowing. Speech therapy may also include sign language and the use of picture symbols or augmented and alternative communication devices.

The speech center of the brain is referred to as Broca’s area and is located in the left hemisphere for right-handed and most left-handed people. Nerves from the Broca’s area lead to the neck and face and control movements of the tongue, lips, and jaw. Children learn speech by parroting what they hear in their environment.

Children with hearing disabilities also experience challenges with speech because they cannot clearly hear sounds they and those around them are making. Children with cerebral palsy and speech challenges also commonly suffer from feeding disorders. Therapy to strengthen speech muscles also greatly benefits eating and swallowing.

Issues Involving Specific Diagnoses

In children diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy, muscle tightness (hypertonia) may cause the tongue to constantly push up against the roof of the mouth, or palate, making speech all but impossible. Children diagnosed with hypotonia (low muscle tone) likewise might experience challenges with speech, as the muscles of the mouth and tongue work together to form sounds.

The tongue is the primary organ involved in speech. It is also the primary organ of taste, chewing, and swallowing.

In chewing, the tongue holds the food against the teeth; in swallowing, it moves the food back into the pharynx, and then into the esophagus when the pressure of the tongue closes the opening of the trachea or windpipe. It also acts, together with the lips, teeth, and hard palate, to form word sounds. Early intervention in this area is vital to a child’s development.

What Are the Benefits of Speech Therapy?

For children with cerebral palsy, speech therapy can help in numerous ways. Some of the benefits include:

  • Strengthening the muscles used for speech
  • Improving understanding of speech and language
  • Helping with articulation, pronunciation, sound, and word formation
  • Improving listening skills
  • Increasing oral motor skills
  • Improving chewing and swallowing
  • Assisting with socialization and increasing independence and self-esteem

What Takes Place During Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy can involve the use of various different exercises and techniques. The speech therapist may choose to focus on breathing exercises, or tongue exercises that require the child to push the tongue against a tongue depressor or spoon, thereby strengthening the muscle. They may also use flashcards or language cards to help with word articulation, speech and sound recognition, and word association. Exercises that work to strengthen the jaw, along with swallowing exercises, are also common during speech therapy.

The speech therapist may use various assistive devices while working with the child. These include augmentative and alternative communication devices, specialized software, and aided communication systems, which can range from boards to speech-generating devices to simple pen and paper.

What Should You Expect from Your Child’s Speech Therapist?

Your child’s speech therapist should be communicating openly with you as to what they are doing, what muscles they are working with, and why they are taking the approach they have chosen. In the case of oral motor and swallowing skills, your child’s therapist should take every precaution to minimize the risk of choking and aspiration. You should also expect the therapist to communicate with your child. Most young children are anxious and fearful of strangers. The therapist should be working and communicating with your child to win your child’s trust and confidence. Regardless of whether your child is capable of comprehension or capable of communication, the therapist should be treating your child with respect, patience, and compassion.

Your child’s therapist is not only working with your child but should also be teaching you techniques to help so that you can be consistent in your child’s care and contribute to helping your child achieve and maintain goals. You should be communicating any concerns and questions you have to the therapist. If necessary, keep a journal and note problems and challenges you see your child may be experiencing between therapy sessions.

Ask the therapist what you can do between therapy sessions to help your child maintain their progress, and how often and for what duration you should work with your child. If your child has been prescribed adaptive or augmentative equipment, inquire as to how often you should use the equipment and the duration of each session.

Your child’s therapist should have written goals. You should be provided with the results of the first assessment and the goals the therapist hopes to achieve in addressing issues and challenges your child may be experiencing. The therapist should do periodic assessments and provide you with goals for improvement and notify you of progress or regression on a regular basis. Additionally, your child’s therapist should coordinate with your child’s educators in developing your child’s Individual Education Program (IEP) and be an active member of your child’s IEP team.

In the case of a private physical therapist not associated with your child’s school, he or she should be communicating with your child’s teachers and involved in the IEP process to make sure everyone is working toward the same goals. The therapist should also be coordinating and communicating with your primary care doctor about any needed adaptive equipment or communication devices and should keep the doctor informed of your child’s progress or problems. If the therapist feels your child would benefit from a specific communication device or piece of adaptive equipment, it is their responsibility to communicate the need to the physician and to follow up in obtaining the device.

Was Your Child’s CP a Result of Negligence?

In some cases, medical malpractice may be the cause of a child’s cerebral palsy. The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs have consulted with over 30,000 families nationwide, helping families recover the compensation they deserve. If your child experienced medical malpractice that led to cerebral palsy, contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.



Claire Surles, RN
Reviewed by:
Claire Surles, RN
Registered Nurse

Claire comes to JJS after a 10-year career as a labor and delivery nurse. She dedicated her hospital efforts to advocating for families, providing the safest birthing environment possible as Newborn Admission Nurse at UMMC St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland. Her passion for helping those who experienced losses at any stage of gestation led to her appointment as Coordinator of the hospital’s ROOTS perinatal loss program. READ FULL BIO

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