Oral Motor Exercises
MOTOR SKILLS: the ability to perform complex muscle-and-nerve acts that produce movement; fine motor skills are small movements like writing and tying shoes, gross motor skills are large movements like walking and kicking.
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So this definition is very basic and simple, but it gives the main idea of what is meant by Motor skills. What some people don't understand is that speech articulation is comprised of a series of very fine motor movements and requires the ability to plan the movements as well as the strength and agility to carry them out in an effective, precise way.
When a child is assessed for articulation, these are the components that are noted: which error sounds are present; if the error sounds are present in words, sentences, and spontaneous speech; if the child is able to imitate correct production; if the child's oral structure and respiration can support proper sound production, if there is any visible pattern in the movement of the oral structure that may be interfering in correct production, etc. Many children will present with visible sliding of the jaw during production of some sounds, or their tongue will move outward between the teeth or to the side of their mouth.
Oral motor exercises are designed to build up the muscle strength, control and agility in non-speech tasks. There is mixed data supporting it's efficacy. Although it is not effective for all children, I have seen marked improvement in many children over the years who completed key exercises over time.
Many exercises can be incorporated into interesting and fun tasks and can cover multiple goals at once. For instance, blowing tasks that are listed on the Relax and Breathe page can help with grading and controlling respiration, tongue retraction, lip closure and strength, cheek strength, direction of airstream through the center of the mouth as opposed to the side of the mouth, and more.
1. Mouth Machine – the bundle of tongue depressors is placed between a pair of tongue depressors, perpendicular so that it resembles an airplane. The child bites down on the front portion of the t.d. pair and are told to close their teeth very slowly and to open their teeth very slowly. This works on their temporo-mandibular joint muscles and helps them learn to open and close their jaws in a controlled manner. Resistance can be built by adding tongue depressors to the bundle and also by changing the position of the td pair around the bundle. Do this 10 reps a day. Also have child bite and hold closed for 10 seconds
2. Bar-bell – start with just a tongue depressor. Have child make an “oo” shape with her lips, then place the td between the lips, parallel to the lips. Have her hold the td without pulling it in between her teeth for 10-20 seconds. Once this gets too easy, tape a penny to each end. As that gets easier, add another penny. Lip strength.
3. Bite-stick – place tongue depressor (or stale twizzler) between the molars on one side of your child’s mouth. Have your child bite down steadily while you pull on the object. You should be able to gently pull without your child letting go for 10 seconds increasing to 20. Then switch sides. This builds up strength in the jaw.
4. Pretzel Rod lick – place pretzel stick or rod across molars on one side. Have your child hold it steady with her teeth as she uses her tongue to lick it front to back and back to front. Do 10 reps on each side. This builds tongue strength and control and builds the ability to move the tongue independently. It also builds jaw stability.
5. Gum-chewing – take half of a piece of bubble gum (like old school Hubba Bubba or Bubblicious) and place on one side between molars. Have child bite up and down (no rotary, or side to side movement) 10 times while keeping gum on that side. Using tongue only, child should move the gum from one side to the other while keeping jaw in the center and without moving their head. Repeat the process. This builds tongue strength and control and the ability to move the tongue independently.It also helps with jaw control.
6. Tongue Exercises – interior tongue lifts, exterior side to side tongue movements – do 10 times daily. Key is not to move head and jaw while moving tongue. This works on keeping the movements of your articulators working separately – having better control.