One of a first things a new parent does is “count fingers and toes” on their new bundle of joy. However, if your baby has cleft palate, you may be wondering how it will interfere with your child’s quality of life. Fortunately, there is help. Speech therapy for kids can help provide solutions for the speech and language difficulties associated with cleft palate. Keep reading to learn more. What Is Cleft Palate? Cleft palate is a craniofacial condition that is present at birth and causes facial anomalies. It is a result of atypical embryotic growth between the fourth and tenth weeks of development. Cleft palate can be classified depending on the structures involved, laterality, and severity. For instance, overt palatal cleft produces a cleft that is visibly open. On the other hand, submucous cleft palate produces a hidden cleft, and is caused by underlying velar musculature failing to attach to the midline. Cleft palate may be associated with many craniofacial and genetic sequences or syndromes, such as Stickler syndrome or Pierre Robin sequence. Symptoms Of Cleft Palate The symptoms of cleft palate vary, depending on the type and severity of the cleft, and whether both lip and palate are involved. In general, babies and children with cleft palate often experience numerous speech and language, dental, hearing, and social difficulties. If your baby has a cleft palate, you may notice the following speech and language characteristics: \tDelayed, and less variety of baby babbling \tFewer consonant productions, due to inability to push air through mouth \tDelayed onset of first words and acquiring words more slowly \tPreference for words beginning with sonorants (nasal sounds and vowels) As your child gets older, you may notice the following speech and language characteristics: \tA limited number of speech sounds \tSubstituting or omitting certain sounds \tArticulation issues \tDelayed expressive language development In these cases, speech therapy for articulation disorders can help. If your child has cleft palate, they may also have some issues with their teeth, including: \tMissing teeth \tMalrotated teeth \tTeeth that are abnormally located \tExcess or duplicated teeth \tOverbite \tUnderbite \tOpen bite (teeth don’t fully close) \tLateral crossbite If your child has cleft palate, they may experience some social difficulties, including: \tPoor self concept and self confidence \tDepression and anxiety \tDifficulty maintaining friendships \tTeasing, bulling, and discrimination based on appearance What Causes Cleft Palate? There isn’t a single cause of cleft palate. Instead, cleft palate is thought to be caused by a variety of factors, including: \tFamily history of cleft palate \tRace (cleft palate is more common in individuals of Asian or Native American descent) \tSex (males are more likely to have cleft lip with or without cleft palate, whereas females are more likely to have cleft palate without cleft lip \tExposure to certain environmental substances, including alcohol, prescriptive and illegal drugs How Can Cleft Palate Interfere With Speech? Cleft palate can have drastic effects on your child’s speech production. To produce most sounds, your child’s soft palate must move to close the space between their mouth and nose. With cleft palate, their soft palate is unable to do this. This is called velopharyngeal insufficiency. With velopharyngeal insufficiency, air and sound escape through your child’s nose when they talk, which can interfere with their speech. In particular, it can interfere with your child’s resonance and airflow, articulation, nasal emission, and voice. These may include: \tHypernasality, especially with vowel sounds \tAir being released from nasal cavity at inappropriate times \tRough or harsh vocal quality, due to air production that is difficult to control \tSoft voice syndrome, due to loss of pressure or reducing vocal intensity to disguise other symptoms How Can Cleft Palate Interfere With Feeding? Feeding difficulties are often the first problem following the birth of a child with cleft palate. If your baby has a cleft lip without cleft palate, they are not likely to experience major feeding issues. However, if your child has a cleft palate, they may have trouble breast or bottle feeding, and may need a special bottle or nipple. Babies with cleft palate are incapable of separating the nasal cavity from the oral cavity, making it impossible to create the pressure necessary for sucking. If your baby is struggling to feed due to cleft palate, you may notice the following associated problems: \tFatigue due to excess energy spent trying to feed \tPoor weight gain \tExcessive air intake \tNasal regurgitation In babies with comorbid conditions, such as other craniofacial anomalies or premature babies, these problems can become more life threatening. Speech Therapy Treatments For Cleft Palate Cleft palate is usually treated with surgery. However, there may still be post surgical complications for your child’s voice. Your child’s speech therapist will focus on helping your child develop their speech by helping them create speech sounds, expand their vocabulary, and improve oral airflow. Before surgery, a speech therapist will help your child: \tUse voice play activities to stimulate production of speech sounds least effected by the cleft \tEncourage alternatives for compensatory productions (saying “no no” instead of “uh uh”) After surgery, a speech therapist will help your child: \tIncrease variety of vocalization through sound play \tIncrease consonant inventories \tIncrease communication opportunities \tIncrease vocabulary \tIncrease awareness of oral airflow for speech \tMonitor persistent nasal substitutions and glottal stops Like many pediatric speech disorders, speech therapy early intervention is key to help bring your child the best results. Book An Appointment With Sol Speech And Language Today If your child has cleft palate, early speech and language intervention is essential. At Sol Speech And Language Therapy in Austin, our qualified speech therapists are passionate about helping your child reach their fullest potential. Book your appointment today.