Oftentimes when a child is receiving speech therapy services, an occupational therapy evaluation is recommended. As a caregiver or potential referring therapist, you may think, “But our main goal is speech, how will OT help?”
Occupational therapy can help to facilitate foundational skills that will assist in speech and language success. In addition to collaborating with the speech therapist to carry over some of the areas they are addressing, an occupational therapist may work on sensory integration, regulation, motor, or visual skills to facilitate speech and language growth.
Areas Occupational Therapy Addresses that Support Speech
Sensory Integration is the coordination of our sensory systems to interpret and process the environment around us. By addressing the sensory systems, occupational therapy can help a child with the following:
- Body Awareness to successfully recognize their place in space which ultimately addresses a controlled body and drool recognition as well as fine motor in the mouth such as the tongue, jaw, and lip positioning.
- Feeding for hypo- and hyper-sensitive feeders
- Hypo-sensitive feeders may over stuff their mouth or pocket food in their cheek.
- Hyper-sensitive feeders may have a very limited food repertoire and gag with certain textures.
- Tongue, jaw, and lip movement quality by addressing the vestibular system. The vestibular system helps maintain balance, maintain a still body, and controls eye movement. The vestibular system coordinates and controls all of our physical movements including movement in the mouth.
- The vestibular system works closely with the auditory system which impacts auditory processing.
- The coordination of our vestibular, visual, and auditory systems is how we begin to understand space and time. We use this knowledge for higher-level language skills like structure, sequencing, timing, and turn-taking in conversation.
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. By addressing the child’s regulation, occupational therapy can help a child with the following:
- Processing environmental input to be aware and present for speech sessions.
- Those who are hypersensitive to environmental input can look overwhelmed or completely zoned out.
- Those who are hyposensitive often appear slouched, fatigued, and disinterested.
- Improved social engagement as the child is more available to engage.
- Cognitively will be more available for speech therapy sessions.
Motor is a child’s growth and strengthening of their bones, muscles and ability to move and touch their surroundings. By addressing the child’s motor skills, occupational therapy can help a child with the following:
- Assist with fluency by addressing motor planning and regulation
- Postural stability for distal mobility which simply means a strong trunk will assist with all fine motor skills, which includes the structure of the mouth.
- 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.
- AC device assistance by working on dexterity, visual motor, visual scanning, etc. for successful use.
Vision is a child’s ability to successfully receive, interpret, and organize information through their eyes. By addressing the visual system, occupational therapy can help a child with the following:
- Eye contact by addressing foundational areas such as vestibular, auditory, and visual skills.
- Visual attention to speech therapist’s materials and lessons.
Occupational therapy helps address sensory integration, regulation, attention, motor skills, and vision 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