Oftentimes when a child is receiving speech therapy services, an occupational therapy evaluation is also recommended. As a caregiver you might think, “But our main goal is speech, how will OT help?” Frequently, when a child is referred for speech therapy, they also display delays in other areas of development. These challenges can impact their communication skills. Occupational therapy helps address sensory integration, sensory regulation, attention and postural strength, which all directly relate to speech and language development. A multidisciplinary approach to address these skills from different viewpoints can be the most effective treatment plan for a child.
Areas Occupational Therapy Addresses that Support Speech
The coordination of our sensory systems is how we begin to understand the environment around us. The body’s proprioceptive (sense of body position) and vestibular (movement and balance) systems are two critical components to speech and language development.
- The proprioceptive system is the sense of where our body is in space. Proprioception allows us to know what different body parts are doing, including muscles of the mouth. To effectively communicate, a child needs to maintain control of their body, and understand where their body is in space.
- The vestibular system helps maintain balance, maintain a still body, and controls eye movement. The vestibular system coordinates and controls our movements, including the movement of the tongue, lips and jaw.
A properly functioning vestibular and proprioceptive system relate directly to speech functioning. An occupational therapist can help a child better process internal and external sensations in their body and environment. An occupational therapist can help create a sensory diet to incorporate proprioceptive and vestibular input throughout their day.
Attention and Sensory Regulation
Occupational therapists help improve attention and sensory regulation, which is critical for social engagement. Self-regulation is the ability to control one’s activity level of alertness. When a child is able to self-regulate they are able to attend and engage in social situations appropriately, building their language skills. Occupational therapists can help address and strengthen a child’s ability to self-regulate. Occupational therapy will combine activities that alert, calm and organize a child’s nervous system. This allows a child to interpret and process sensory information effectively and better interact with their environment. An occupational therapist can help develop a sensory diet so a child can self-regulate and engage in social interactions. Improved attention and regulation can also help a child attend to and learn from their speech therapist during speech therapy sessions.
Postural stability refers to the ability to maintain an upright posture while seated without support. The lips, tongue and jaw work most effectively when they are supported by a strong trunk. Postural support also impacts a child’s ability to use breath support to generate speech. Being able to maintain an upright posture is essential to speech production and swallowing. Occupational therapy addresses postural stability through trunk and neck strengthening activities. An occupational therapist will help develop home program activities to address trunk and neck stability that may include swings, an exercise ball, activities in a prone position, and weight bearing.
Occupational therapy helps address sensory integration, sensory regulation, attention, and postural strength, which all directly relate to speech and language development. Adding an occupational therapist to a child’s multidisciplinary team can be the most effective treatment plan for helping a child reach their goals. Contact Chicago Occupational Therapy or call (773) 980-0300 to learn more about our services and how we can help your child flourish and grow.
- Tung, L. C., Lin, C. K., Hsieh, C. L., Chen, C. C., Huang, C. T., & Wang, C. H. (2013). Sensory integration dysfunction affects efficacy of speech therapy on children with functional articulation disorders. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 9, 87–92. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S40499
- Ayres, A.J. and Mailloux, Z. (1981). Influence of Sensory Integration Procedures on Language Development. American Journal of Occupational Therapy 35(6); 383-390.
- Pfeiffer, B.A., Koenig, K., Sheppard, M., Henderson, L. (2011). Effectiveness of Sensory Integration Interventions in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Pilot Study. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65, 76-85