Speech therapy and motor therapy, what’s the connection?

January 21, 2015

One of the main reasons parents come through our door is that they want their kids to talk. This is certainly a valid concern, as it is important for children to express their wants and needs.  Talking is not necessarily functional speech.  Functional speech is the ability to independently communicate meaningful information back and forth with a partner.  In order for a child to develop functional speech they must have the building blocks. images-17

Building Blocks for Functional Speech
  • Attention
  • Motivation
  • Engagement
  • Imitation
  • Coordination of respiration, phonation, and articulationimages-18
What Does Atypical Speech Look Like?
  • While crying, your child does not make variated sounds.  Their cry is flat and indifferent.  This indicates early motor planning difficulties and lack of exploration of he mouth, tongue, and lips, all of which are needed for sound production.  
  • Your child is not sharing experiences with you.  From a very young age, your child should be imitating your facial expressions, sounds, and movements.  
  • Absence of environmental sounds, jargon, babbling during play.  These skills lay the foundation for the use of meaningful sounds/speech.  For example, when your child is driving a car, they should be making the "v" sound as they move the car.  
  • Using vocabulary as a label versus a want or a need.  For example, your child says "juice", but they don't say "I want juice".
  • Lack of reciprocity.  Children can string multiple words together, but have difficulty with back-n-forth communication.
  • Not using variances in their sentences.  For example, a child can say "green ball', but doesn't know how to change that into a question or to use it as a declarative, such as "there's the green ball".  images-15
How Can Motor Therapy Help:

Now you're asking yourselves, "what does this have to do with motor therapy?"  Motor therapists specialize in getting to the root of why a child may have difficulty attending and/or show a lack of interest in interacting or engaging.  Motor therapy can look at aspects of the sensory and motor systems to determine if a child has difficulty attending due to decreased postural control or stability.  For example, if your child is always moving and on the go, a motor therapist will determine if there is some core weakness contributing to the need to always move.  It takes the right balance of muscles in order for a child to sit--even for short amounts of time.  Core weakness can also contribute to difficulty with the breath support needed for speech production.    Chances are, if your child has weakness in their oral structures (lips, jaw, tongue), more than likely they have weakness in their core muscles which provide the stability and control for smaller muscles to work efficiently and effectively.  In motor therapy, we refer to this as postural stability/control. 

Motor therapy can assess your child's ability to use information from their environment.  We are constantly being bombarded by things we see, hear, touch, and feel.  We obtain information from our environment every time we move.  Some children have difficulty ignoring information that is irrelevant to the situation.  Some children seek out information that is irrelevant to the situation.  In both cases, this can impact your child's ability to interact, attend, and engage, which can impact functional speech skills.  Thus, the ability to process and filter sensory information from the environment can affect functional speech. 

Motor therapy can also enhance your child's motor planning skills.  Motor planning is the ability to come up with an idea, decide what you need to follow through with the idea, and then execute that idea.  Children with speech delays can have difficulty with motor planning, which affects their ability to produce speech sounds, use speech sounds together to form words, and sequence words together to form phrases and sentences.  I am always explaining to parents that speech production is just a refined motor sequence.  Motor planning deficits can have an impact on play, development of skills, and social interaction skills. 

Motor therapy can assist your child in developing the skills necessary for the coordination of respiration, phonation, and articulation.  There are several factors that can hinder development of these skills--core weakness, ribcage flaring/elevation, and difficulty with the planning and sequencing of these skills.  

If you have concerns regarding your child's speech and language skills, I suggest you you look at some of these areas that may be impacting development of their skills.  If your child is currently getting speech therapy, talk with your therapist and see if motor therapy is needed to address any underlying deficits that may be contributing to your child's difficulty with functional speech and communication. 


185 S. Marley Rd. New Lenox, IL 60451