Speech and language problems are common to cerebral palsy (CP) because of the motor, intellectual, and sensory impairments this disease causes. In children with CP, these difficulties can range from mild to severe.

Speech therapy and language therapy, for these reasons, may be of benefit to children — and adults — with CP struggling to communicate effectively.

What speech problems are common to CP?

Speech impairments in CP often include:

  • Articulation, because of poor oral-motor control and weakness in the muscles of the head, neck, face, and throat. These may interfere with a child’s ability to make sounds, form syllables, and say words. These problems can also make it difficult for others to understand a person’s speech.
  • Interrupted speech like stuttering, which can break the flow of speech, impede communication, and be frustrating.
  • Irregular pitch, volume control, and voice quality issues that may make it difficult for children to interact with others.
  • Dysarthria, or slurred or slow speech, because of impaired movement of the muscles of the tongue, lips, and vocal folds. It can make speech difficult to understand. In addition to a slow rate of speech, patients may show limited facial movement while speaking.
  • Dysphagia, or swallowing difficulties, because of problems in the throat and facial muscles. As well as affecting speech, this condition can lead to problems with digestion, drooling, regurgitation, heartburn, coughing, and gagging.
  • Aphasia, which usually results in difficulties in speaking and understanding others. Writing and reading skills can also be affected.
  • Communication and language problems often seen in this disease are related to processing and understanding language, difficulty in putting words together to convey ideas, a limited vocabulary, and inappropriate use of language in social settings. Patients may also encounter difficulties with communication skills, such as perception, memory, organization, problem-solving, and other cognitive functions.

How does speech therapy work?

A speech and language pathologist (SLP) can assess the patient’s abilities and limitations, and help develop speech and language treatment plans. SLPs can also train parents, teachers, and family members in continuing to help a person with their speech, communication, and daily needs.

The main aim of speech therapy is to address swallowing problems, increase oral-motor function, enhance understanding, and facilitate communication using various methods and exercises. SLPs will devise a therapy plan according to the unique needs of each patient.

In general, speech therapy helps in producing proper sounds, words, and syllables; in regulating voice volume; and in improving listening and perception, articulation and pronunciation, vocabulary, understanding and comprehension, voice quality, and chewing and swallowing.

What are typical speech therapy exercises?

Some of the speech therapy exercises that may be recommended include:

  • Facial massage, and lip, tongue, and jaw exercises to help strengthen the face and jaw muscles important to speaking, eating, drinking, and swallowing.
  • Exercises to strengthen the lip, jaw, and tongue muscles. These may include lollipops and tongue depressors that can help develop strength in, and control over, these muscles. SLPs may also recommend extra-chewy foods to strengthen and train facial muscles.
  • Repetitive mouth and tongue coordination exercises to produce proper sounds, syllables, and words. SLPs often use mirrors to help a child understand how best to move the mouth to produce the sounds of certain letters and words.
  • Whistleblowing and breathing exercises to train mouth muscles to produce particular sounds, strengthen abdominal muscles, and help control breathing.
  • The use of pictures, books, and objects to stimulate language development, and build vocabulary and grammar skills.
  • Use of flashcards to focus on those sounds a person may have trouble with clearly pronouncing.


Last updated: Mar. 9, 2020


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