What Is Oral-Motor Therapy, and Why Would a Child Need It?

by Isa Marrs

Wrongly used by most speech therapists, oral-motor therapy uses a variety of exercises to develop awareness, strength, coordination and mobility of the oral muscles. For example it may be used to improve muscle tone of the face or to reduce tongue thrust (the protrusion of the tongue from the mouth).

Oral-motor therapy is often used as a component of feeding therapy. In this case an experienced therapist will be able to determine why a child is having difficulty in a particular area and will create an oral-motor-feeding plan individualized for the child.

There is no current research to support the use of oral-motor therapy to treat speech disorders. Unfortunately, despite that fact, research shows that 8 out of 10 speech therapists use oral-motor when attempting to treat speech disorders.

A case in which I would use oral-motor therapy to “help” speech clarity is when saliva is collecting in the mouth and causing slushy-speech. However this is not a “speech” disorder. The root cause of this is a “swallowing” disorder leading to problems with speech clarity. That distinction is important.

Oral-motor therapy can be very helpful or it can be a waste of time. It depends on how and for what it is being used.

If a speech language pathologist is recommending oral-motor therapy for your child it is important to understand why and to be involved as much as possible. If not you are at risk of wasting time and money.