Getting on the Road to Clear, Strong Speech

By Wendy Alexander, CCC-SLP

Isn’t it nice when friends tell you that you have something stuck between your teeth? Don’t you always appreciate it when your kids tell you there’s a big spot on your shirt collar or that your earring is about to fall out of your ear? If it weren’t for these reflective and helpful comments by our friends and family, we’d all be running amuck with all kinds of unusual things stuck on ourselves!

Consider this analogy when thinking about the oral motor mechanism- our mouth, cheeks, teeth, lips, tongue, throat, and nasal passages. Specifically, the act of producing speech requires a complex orchestration of muscle speed, coordination, strength and agility. In addition, one must have keen awareness of where, how and when all these parts are moving.  When it’s broken down like this, speaking is a masterful gymnastic and balletic routine. It really is quite an amazing process!

Enter the scene: an individual who is having difficulty talking and a speech therapist is called in to help. Many short and long term goals are established by the speech therapist, one of which is completing oral motor exercises. You know them, you love them, and you may know that oral motor exercises are often a cornerstone in a speech therapist’s bag of tricks. We speech therapists hold oral (mouth) motor (muscle movement) exercises (sometimes difficult, but really good for you!) in high esteem.

Oral motor exercises, a.k.a. OME, are beneficial in many ways. Speech therapists use oral motor exercises to improve the parameters of speech listed above: muscle speed, muscle agility, muscle strength and muscle coordination.  Your speech therapist wants the mouth muscles to be quick, precise and strong-just like your favorite NASCAR racecar!

Another purpose for exercising oral musculature is to improve self-awareness of these muscles and their motions. Remember, if your best friend didn’t tell you that you had a huge piece of parsley stuck between your two front teeth, you’d have no idea it was there!

Another way to raise your self-awareness would be to check yourself out in a mirror. You would likely notice that unruly piece of parsley immediately. Similarly, when completing oral motor exercises, it is useful and beneficial to complete them while looking into a mirror. The mirror enables individuals to perform oral motor motions with better range of motion, with increased precision with those motions and with improved speed. Awareness of muscle movement with the use of a mirror gives an individual immediate feedback of performance, resulting in rapid changes and improvements of the oral motor structures and functions.

Now it’s time to start your engines! Grab your list of oral motor exercises, prop up that mirror, fluff up your hair and get those muscles moving!

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