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Many conditions, including cerebral palsy, autism, hearing loss, developmental delays, may cause difficulty with speech and language development. Some children are unable to produce intelligible speech. Sometimes they also experience challenges in other areas of communication, such as hand gestures and facial expressions. Often, these challenges will last throughout their lives. Other children have less severe speech difficulties that are easily improved through early intervention.

Speech therapy is a clinical program aimed at improving speech and language skills and oral motor abilities. This means talking, using sign language, or using a communication aid. Children who are able to talk may work on making their speech clearer, or on building their language skills by learning new words, learning to speak in sentences, or improving their listening skills. Children who cannot talk may learn sign language, or how to use special equipment such as a computer that actually speaks for them.

What are Some of the Methods Speech Therapists Use?

First, the patients must be helped to identify their speech problems and to tell the difference between their speech and normal speech. Many therapists use audio and video recording machines to help with this understanding.

During the second stage of treatment, the therapist teaches the patient new speech skills. Tongue exercises and speech drills may be used to overcome specific communication difficulties. After the patients have improved their speech, they learn to use their skills in everyday situations.

Speech therapy may be given individually or in groups in a variety of settings, such as the home, rehabilitation center, school, clinic, or private office. Most patients with complex speech problems, such as aphasia, receive individual therapy.

Methods used by speech therapists depend on the problem at hand, and differ depending on the setting. For articulation problems, for example, speech therapists in medical centers may work “inside the mouth” using Popsicle sticks, fingers, whistles, straws and other items to help the child gain control over the muscles of the mouth, tongue and throat.

For most children with severe communication disorders, one-to-one treatment is essential. Speech therapists can also help children with severe disabilities learn how to use special communication devices, such as a computer with a voice synthesizer, or a special board covered with symbols of everyday objects and activities to which a child can point to indicate his or her wishes. This is known as assistive technology.

There are all sorts of ways to encourage the production of speech, and they can be integrated into other types of therapeutic systems. When doing speech therapy with children, motivation can be a roadblock. Speech therapists may then use speech games, flash cards, toys, hand puppets, and reinforcers of all sorts to keep sessions on track and encourage children to work harder. Since each patient with a speech disorder is unique, such therapy will have to be tailored to the needs of the individual.

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