Many complex processes contribute to a child’s ability to speak, including motor learning, motor planning, sensory processing and sensory integration. The production of a single syllable requires the participation of 8-10 body parts and the coordinated action of 70 muscles.
Because speech is a complex motor task involving so many different muscles and body parts, it is important the entire body be addressed. Inadequate trunk control, instability at the shoulder girdle, and poor stability in the head, neck and jaw can all negatively impact speech production.
Recognizing that speech is a movement task means we must also recognize the importance of an intact sensory processing system, because the ability to move well requires feedback to the brain from the sensory systems. When any part of the sensory system is not functioning appropriately we can see deficits in movement and function. In traditional speech therapy, the visual and auditory systems are often provided with input. There are other important systems that are often overlooked in traditional speech therapy sessions. These systems make large contributions to the coordination of movement patterns for speech. These systems are:
- The Tactile System: This system provides information to aid in visual processing, motor planning, body awareness, cognitive learning, emotional security and social skills (Kranowitz, 1998). “The sense of touch is critical in helping us function in the environment on a daily basis” (Ayres, 1986). Constant tactile stimulation is necessary for all individuals; it has the ability to keep us organized and functioning (Kranowitz, 1998). Poor tactile discrimination is a result of an immature ability to discriminate between tactile experiences and remembering past experiences. Children with dysfunction of the tactile system may over–react to touch and are often described as “tactually defensive”. Other children who do not register enough information are referred to as “sensory seeking”. In either case, information is not processed optimally, and motor planning for speech production may be affected.
- The Proprioceptive System: The proprioceptive system is the unconscious awareness of one’s own body position relative to other body parts and to the environment (Yacks et. al, 1998). This system provides information that helps the individual integrate touch and movement (Kranowitz, 1998). This sensory modality provides information about the relative position of one part of the body in relation to another (e.g. lower jaw and upper jaw). As children move, sensory receptors located throughout the muscles and joints feed information to the brain about position, and this information plays an important role in planning movements for speech production. Children who are under–reactive may not receive the sufficient input for the development of well–controlled movements.
- The Vestibular System: The vestibular system in the brain allows us to stand upright, maintain balance, move through space, and process visual information about the environment while we are in motion. The vestibular system is a complex sensory system, integrating information from the vestibular organs in the inner ear, the eyes, the neck and shoulder muscles, the fingertips and palms of the hand, the processors on the soles of the feet, hip and leg joints, and the jaw muscles and facial muscles. A child with vestibular and language problems benefits greatly from therapy that simultaneously addresses both types of dysfunction. Speech and language therapists report that just putting the child in a swing during treatment can have remarkable results. The vestibular system influences motor control and motor planning that are necessary to use the fine muscles in the throat, tongue, lips, and jaw to produce intelligible speech. Because the vestibular system also is crucial for effective auditory processing, the child with vestibular dysfunction frequently develops problems with language. The vestibular, auditory and visual systems work together as they process sensations of movement and sound and light. These sensations are closely intertwined, as they all begin to be processed and/or influenced by receptors of the ear. Vision is also an important component of the vestibular system. About twenty percent of visual neurons respond to vestibular stimulation (e.g. when spinning, head shaking, or rocking). The auditory system is also highly involved in vestibular functions. The vestibular and auditory nerves join in the auditory canal and become the eighth cranial nerve of the brain. Anything that disrupts auditory information can also affect vestibular functioning.
All of the sensory systems must work well and work together. Dysfunction in any one of the sensory systems can result in deficits in functioning and in communication. All of the systems interact together in order for us to think, move, comprehend and interpret the world around us. We call this process of balancing and improving the communication between the input systems, sensory integration.
If we are able to organize the sensory systems we are better able to address deficits with motor planning. In addition, when the sensory systems are functioning appropriately we are better able to process and learn information from our environment.
For these reasons, Speech Language Pathology in Motion incorporates movement and sensory activities into our therapy sessions as needed. We also use specialized therapy techniques such as PROMPT Therapy and Hippotherapy to provide information to the visual, auditory, proprioceptive, tactile and vestibular systems.
To learn more about the services offered at Speech Language Pathology in Motion visit www.speechinmotion.com.
© 2012, Tina M. Rocco, M.A. CCC-SLP, HPCS. All rights reserved.