Operation Smile knows that Speech Therapists provide a critical role in the life of the child with cleft lip and cleft palate. These skilled medical volunteers are responsible for identifying, evaluating and treating patients in order to help the child and the child's family develop the best skills possible.
Children with cleft lip and cleft palate are at risk for difficulty with feeding, speech, language, and hearing. Left untreated, these problems can result in inadequate growth and development, unintelligible speech, poor use and understanding of language, and undiagnosed hearing loss. Children who receive lip and palate surgery by the age of 18 months are at lowest risk for developing these problems. Sadly, in many developing countries around the world, children do not receive surgery until they are well over the age of 2 years, often teenagers and adults.
In providing treatment, there are four key areas of focus:
Feeding- A baby with an unrepaired lip may have difficulty latching onto the mother's breast. The Speech Therapist can help the mother position the baby to be able to feed. A child with an unrepaired cleft palate is unable to suck from a mother's breast or a regular baby bottle. Therefore, the parent and the baby need specialized training in using alternative methods of feeding in order for the baby to be healthy and strong enough for surgery.
Speech- Both before and after surgery, children need to receive speech therapy in order to learn how to produce speech sounds correctly. The presence of a cleft of the lip makes it difficult to produce sounds pronounced with the lips. The presence of a cleft palate may result in the child producing abnormal sounds since air goes out of the nose through the cleft instead of through the mouth. The Speech Therapist can identify which sounds are made in error, what type of error is being made, and can develop a treatment plan. Prior to surgery, the therapist can begin to teach the child where to place his lips and tongue to produce a more correct sound. After surgery the Speech Therapist can continue to train the child to use correct sounds and help the repaired palate work properly. The Speech Therapist also monitors the success of the palate repair and helps to identify the need for additional surgery necessary for the best speech outcome without .
Language- The inability to produce speech sounds correctly makes it difficult for children with unrepaired cleft lip and cleft palate to begin to develop words and sentences. These children often have a smaller vocabulary than children without clefts. Both before and after surgery, the Speech Therapist can work with the child and the parent to help establish language skills.
Hearing- Children with cleft palate are born with fluid in their middle ears which does not drain properly due to the cleft. A Speech Therapist can identify signs of hearing loss in infants and children in order to refer them for ear treatment and provide therapy to the child and parent to help them develop listening skills crucial for speech and language development.
Watch our Speech Therapists in action at a Speech Camp in Thailand>>
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