Using Oral Motor Exercises
to Improve your Speech

Here you will find all the necessary information on oral motor therapy as well as related speech disorders that benefit from oral motor exercises. We will explain the causes and symptoms of oral motor difficulties, list and explain related speech disorders, provide tips for daily management of speech difficulties, tips for caregivers, and describe how oral motor therapy can help you or a loved one improve speech clarity.

We will also introduce the latest advancement in oral motor treatment: Professional oral motor exercises on video!

What Causes Oral Motor Difficulties?

Oral motor difficulties are caused by an event or disease that damages an area of the brain responsible for oral muscle control. These include:

  • Stroke
  • TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury)
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)
  • Motor Neuron Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Tumor

Each of these causes can affect oral motor function differently depending on the severity and extent of the injury. In each case, however, oral motor therapy can improve overall speech production.

What are the Symptoms related to
Oral Motor Disorders?

Common symptoms include:

  • Poor strength and coordination of the lips, tongue, and jaw.

  • Poor speech clarity ("muddled" speech)
  • Drooling
  • Poor muscle tone in the face (muscles appear to be "sagging")
  • Difficulty with chewing and swallowing (feeding difficulties)
  • Voice changes - speech sounding hoarse, nasal, or soft
  • Unable to perform coordinated oral movements

These symptoms traditionally improve through oral motor therapy. Daily practice of efficient exercises is the key to success.

Related Speech Disorders

Common speech disorders that benefit from oral motor
therapy are:

  • Verbal apraxia
  • Oral apraxia
  • Dysarthria

These disorders typically occur with aphasia, although they may exist without any accompanying ailment.

Verbal Apraxia: Verbal apraxia (also known as, Apraxia of Speech or AOS) is a disorder that affects voluntary muscle movement for speech. Although the jaw, tongue, and lip muscles have no muscle weakness, a verbal apraxic will have tremendous difficulty speaking because they cannot move their speech muscles in proper sequence.

Oral Apraxia: Oral apraxia is the inability to carry out oral muscle movement on command. For example, if you asked an individual with oral apraxia to blow a kiss they would experience difficulty making the proper oral movements.

Oral apraxia differs from verbal apraxia in that it does not involve the act of speaking.

Oral apraxia and verbal apraxia often appear together, although they may both occur in isolation.

Dysarthria: Dysarthria is a neurological disorder that impairs the oral muscles. There are several types of dysarthria.

Some dysarthrias are expressed through low muscle tone and/or muscle weakness, however other types demonstrate characteristics such as spasticity, ataxia, increased muscle tone, and fluctuating tone.

Dysarthria will sometimes appear with oral apraxia and verbal apraxia, though each disorder may exist independently.

Learn how our videos can help improve your loved one’s oral motor coordination!

Tips for Communicating with an
Oral Motor Deficit

  • If not aware, let people know that you are having difficulty with your speech.
  • Speak slowly and intentionally. Try to limit your messages to shorter, more compact sentences.
  • When speaking longer messages, take a rest between sentences.
  • Use good posture while speaking. Your breath is the energy source behind your voice. Sit or stand up straight and use your breath to its full potential.
  • Writing and drawing are forms of communicating too. If you are becoming frustrated with your speech, use some of your other skills to get the message across.
  • Keep practicing and don't give up. Whether it's oral motor exercises or learning sign language, keep improving your ability to communicate.

Communication Tips for Caregivers

1. Always speak to your loved one with respect.

2. Give your speaking partner time to speak. Let them complete what they have to say. Only offer help if they become overly frustrated.

3. Try to eliminate all distractions while communicating.

4. Let the speaker know when you do not understand them. Try to ask yes/no questions to figure out the part of the message you didn't understand.

Oral Motor Therapy

"Oral motor function is fine motor function of the oral mechanism (i.e., jaw, tongue, lips, and cheeks) for the purposes of eating, drinking, speaking, and other mouth activities.

Oral motor treatment addresses sensory processing as well as dissociation, grading, direction, timing, and coordination of mouth movement for eating, drinking, speaking, and other mouth activities" (Bahr, 2008).

oral motor exercises

Oral motor therapy was designed to increase the coordination and stamina of the jaw, lips, and tongue (the oral muscles). It can also include exercises to improve feeding and swallowing difficulties.

When an oral motor deficit is present, a speech-language pathologist can provide a professional evaluation and develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

How does Oral Motor
Therapy Work?

Simply put, oral motor therapy is exercising the muscles of your mouth.

Under normal circumstances our oral muscles need no extra exercise. The act of speaking and eating each day keeps them all in great shape.

And like any other group of muscles in your body, exercising them will improve your ability to use them with greater stamina, speed, accuracy and control.

But what happens when the part of our brain that controls these muscles becomes damaged? That is usually the first time most of us become aware of the muscles surrounding our mouth. And, usually the first time we realize that we might require help to regain control over them again.

Improving Neuromuscular Coordination

Neuromuscular coordination is the ability to perform complex muscle movements at a relatively high level of accuracy and efficiency. In relation to speech, your ability to speak accurately is dependent upon the neuromuscular coordination of your jaw, tongue and lips.

However, if you have an oral motor speech disorder the accuracy and efficiency of your speech will be compromised. To improve the accuracy of your speech you will need to practice effective oral motor exercises to increase your neuromuscular coordination.

"Speech production is a highly precise and practiced motor skill" (Kent, 1980).

The best way to explain how oral motor exercises improve your speech is to give you a sports analogy:

All athletes must experience and eventually perfect a variety of motor skills in order to ensure future athletic success.

In the same way, individuals with poor oral motor coordination must improve their oral motor skills to ensure accurate sound production.

Football: Many of us have seen football players doing agility footwork by running through a series of car tires lying flat on the ground. They quickly high step in and out of each tire opening as they run forward while trying not to slip and fall.

How does this exercise relate to football? Will football players be running through tires on the field during a game? No, but they will use that learned muscle coordination to dodge tackles and opponents as they run down the field.

Boxing: Many of us are familiar with the image of a boxer jumping rope. This is practiced to improve endurance, focus, balance, rhythm, and coordination. Concentrated mental focus is required to coordinate the variety of leg and arm muscles involved with timing the rope cycles while moving the feet up and down to avoid hitting the rope.

How does this exercise relate to boxing? Will a boxer be skipping rope when he enters the ring? No, but his increased endurance, focus and coordinated footwork will help keep opponents at bay.

Speech: Likewise, a person with a speech disorder will practice many oral motor exercises. These include; stabilizing the jaw, pursing the lips, alternating lip posture between a pucker and smile, disassociating the tongue from the jaw, slowly moving the tongue tip around the lips, etc.

How do these exercises relate to speech? Will you do these exercises while having a conversation? No, but the increased stamina and coordination of your oral muscles will improve your ability to
speak clearly.

Transferring oral coordination to your Speech!

As you're improving your oral coordination it's necessary to transfer those skills to the ultimate goal: Speaking! The use of oral (jaw, lip, and tongue) motor (sensory, movement, and positioning) exercises should be used within the context of a full program of articulation and/or phonology therapy.

Since speech improvement is the end goal, articulation therapy should be a part of any speech improvement program. Oral Motor Therapy should always be combined with Articulation Therapy.

What you need is access to professional oral motor and articulation exercises so you can start improving your communication skills today:

Professional Oral Motor Exercises and Speech Activities on DVD!

oral motor exercises on DVD

Through a collaboration of certified speech-language pathologists, our oral motor and articulation exercises on DVD were designed to give adults
the opportunity to improve their oral coordination and speech clarity in an
easy-to-use, affordable manner!

Our DVDs provide high quality digital presentation of today's most widely used oral motor exercises and therapeutic speech activities, all aimed at one thing:

Relieving Frustration and Improving your Speech!

Start using Oral Motor Exercises to Improve your Speech!

Oral Motor Exercises for Children!

Speakwell's oral motor exercises for children

This lively, entertaining presentation makes learning
fun while providing basic awareness of proper tongue placement, lip posture, and jaw stability.

Your child will love doing oral motor exercises
when they meet Sammy Speakwell and his
special guest, Kelly Anne.

Watch a video of Sammy Speakwell and Kelly Anne!

Copyright © 2006