Oral Motor Exercises – My Opinion
Do Oral Motor Exercises help a child to make speech sounds? In my opinion, in most cases no. And by most cases I mean that I may have seen one or two children in the last 26 years where oral motor exercises might have made the difference. But even in these cases I’m not sure if it was the exercises themselves that helped them make the speech sound because I have never worked on oral motor exercises without also working on sounds at the same time.
I was taught, and I do believe it is still true today, that oral motor exercises, puckering your lips, blowing through a straw, doing tongue pushups and so on will make you better at doing those exercises they do not make you better at doing speech sounds.
Can tongue, lip and jaw exercises be of any use? For some children, sure. I would even say that for a very select few they are even essential. For some children oral motor exercises will give them more awareness of how to move their tongue, lips and jaw. When they gain control over these muscles it is easier for them to move them to where they need to go to make sounds correctly. For the very few they might need to strengthen muscles to the point where they can move what needs to be moved into the right places to make the sounds. But whatever the case as soon as a child is able to make the sound they should focus on practicing making the sound, not on exercising their muscles.
I used to often give children oral exercises to try to help them get ready to make different speech sounds. Do I still do this? No. I will push tongues around with tongue depressor or sponges on the ends of sticks so children can feel what it is like to have their tongue in the right position but I haven’t yet found a case where I thought that exercises were essential. I believe that in most cases exercises take up valuable practice time that is better spent elsewhere. Tongue, lips and jaw muscles might be weak and may have a hard time moving to the right places but if a child can get them to the right places to make the sounds then this is what they should be practicing, not blowing on horns, sucking through straws or doing tongue pushups.
So should parents do if a Speech Therapist was using oral motor exercises to help with speech sounds? Well I would be asking a lot of questions. I would want to know exactly what the purpose of the exercises were and how exactly the exercises were going to help with speech sounds. If the therapist has good answers and what he or she says make good common sense then I would likely trust the person. If they don’t have good reasoning or seem to be doing exercises just because that is what they do to work on sounds then I would be looking for a second opinion.
I welcome your comments, questions and your own experiences with oral motor exercises. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I certainly have lots more to learn.