How to Make More Progress in Speech Therapy With Sensory Regulation

Are you worried about your child’s speech delays? If so, making progress in speech therapy is probably a high priority.

You want your child to say words and combine words. To follow directions and answer questions.

Maybe you want so desperately to connect with your child that you haven’t given a second thought to sensory regulation. You’re focused on communication.

But what if I told you that your child’s progress in speech therapy depended on his level of sensory regulation – on his ability to regulate his body?

Here’s the bottom line.

A regulated child is a better learner. Not just in academics! In speech and language learning. And in life.

Let’s help your child get there.

How Sensory Regulation Impacts Speech Therapy Progress

In all kinds of settings, you’ll find occupational therapists (OTs) and speech therapists (SLPs) working together.

This is not because OTs and SLPs treat kids who randomly happen to have needs in both areas. 

It’s because several sensory systems are directly involved with speech and language skills. Studies tell us that sensory regulation is important to speech and language development.

It’s also because each child’s ability to develop speech and language skills hinges on his or her ability to show up at home, school, and speech therapy sessions ready to learn.

Sensory processing disorders and speech delays go hand in hand. (1)

Here’s how different senses each play a role.

The Sense of Touch

When we think about the sense of touch, we typically think about our skin. But we also get touch input through our mouths! Touch is important for the body parts we use to make speech sounds. These body parts, called “articulators,” include the tongue, lips, roof of the mouth, and more.

If your child’s sensory system is not processing touch information properly, it may impact his speech. If he can’t feel where his articulators are, and where they have to be to make certain sounds, his speech may not sound the way we expect it to. (2)

The Sense of Body Awareness

Similar to the sense of touch, the sense that tells us about where our body is in space is also important to speech and language development. We rely on this sense – called proprioception – to talk. This includes information from our jaw and other articulators. Information, specifically, about pressure, strength, and position. (3)

If your child can’t work out what his articulators are doing and how he’s using them together, his speech may be difficult to understand. (2)

The Sense of Hearing

As young children, we learn speech and language primarily by listening to the sounds around us. This includes the speech used by everyone around us! If we can’t process auditory input appropriately, we can’t develop our listening and speaking skills. (2)

If your child’s sense of hearing is not working well, he might show difficulties alerting to and understanding language. He might also struggle with language expression and speech.

The Sense of Movement

Studies show that the movement sense (the vestibular system) is deeply involved in communication development.

First, this system, which involves body movement and balance, supports motor planning. And motor planning is a necessary skill for speech production.

You might not realize it, but an incredible number of tiny muscle movements occur in speech. Each time you say a word! If your child has difficulties processing movement input, he might have speech problems such as apraxia of speech. (2, 4)

Second, the movement system works with the auditory system to identify and focus on a communication partner. (5)

If your child can’t determine where a sound is coming from and who it belongs to, he may struggle to answer questions, follow directions, and participate in a conversation. (2)

How to Use Sensory Regulation Strategies to Support Speech and Language Progress

Let’s reduce the consequences of a dysregulated sensory system on communication development. To start, try these strategies! 

Incorporate Sensory Input in Speech Therapy Tasks

Target speech and language skills and sensory input simultaneously.

Incorporate music into sessions to target the sense of hearing. Add some hand motions for the songs, and you’ve included movement input. Bonus points for hand motions that are bilateral (i.e., using both sides of the body).

Involve stimulating movements between practice saying words! Have your child touch the floor or twirl in a circle after each. Or, accomplish the same movements while working on language comprehension. Ask him to follow directions such as “Push your chair” or “Find the bear under the table and give him to me.” These actions target the senses of movement and body awareness.

Help a child with speech problems get some touch input and increased awareness to his mouth before practicing sounds! Find a tongue depressor, popsicle stick, or a lollipop. Apply pressure to his lips and tongue. Have him bite down for jaw pressure. Tell him to press his tongue tip into his cheeks, puff out his cheeks, and more.

Keep Things Predictable

Children with sensory needs prefer sameness. This helps them understand expectations and remain calm. Organize structured speech and language work in a consistent way. Try using a visual schedule to remind kids of what comes next. A visual schedule includes an ordered list of activities. It typically contains pictures, written words, or other visuals for reference.

Encourage Movement

Set aside time to move before and during speech and language tasks. Movement breaks help to reset the sensory system. Take breaks as frequently as needed for your child! Don’t push him to the point of disengagement before suggesting one. Even better – build jumping, running, heavy work, and more into the visual schedule described above! See our previous post for further information on the power of movement.

Give a Fidget

Provide a sensory tool to get your child some sensory input during structured speech and language tasks. There are lots of different products on the market, so try a few to see what works best for your child. His needs and preferences could change as he grows! Sign up soon to access Sensory TheraPLAY’s November subscription box. You’ll get new sensory products delivered to your doorstep each month. Discover the sensory input that sets him up for speech and language learning!

Focus on Learning Readiness with Sensory Regulation

Before your child’s next therapy session… Before you sit him down for some speech and language practice…

Stop.

Remember that a regulated child is a child who is ready to learn.

And focus on sensory regulation.

Your child will make more progress in speech therapy because of it.

Sources

  1. Via ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  2. Ebert of Cari Ebert Seminars, via ksha.org 
  3. The Sensory Connection by Kashman & Mora
  4. Via ghcot.com 
  5. The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun by Kranowitz

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