Our earliest use of our jaw, lips and tongue begins with safely manipulating a bolus of food and swallowing with proper function of oral and pharyngeal structures. This process, leads us to begin to use the muscles of speech production in a proper way, which paves neurological pathways for higher cognitive function.

Use of these proper pathways, helps the cranial nerves to send appropriate messages to the facial muscles so that we can work on natural, intelligible speech. For example, when we work on bottle feeding or nursing using these structures properly, we are addressing closing and lowering the jaw, lip compression/rounding as well as tongue elevation and cupping. These skills lead to proper use of speech musculature (i.e the obicularis oris which helps to produce bilabial sounds “b” and “p”) leading to intelligible, coordinated speech sound development.

It is imperative that we understand motor patterns that need to be utilized for proper development of motion patterns for eating, speech, emotional expression and communication.

If these early patterns are not successfully utilized and practiced on a regular basis, the inappropriate patterns will result in non-productive compensations, excessive use of muscles for fulfilling tasks (trying too hard), excessive muscle tension, excessive over-control or the opposite – lack of control, tiredness, lack of physical conditioning, emotional instability, lack of cognitive processes coordination and deficiency in the cranial movement system and its rhythm.

Early reflexes such as the Sucking Reflex need to have their patterns properly integrated as sucking stimulates activitation of hormones for relaxation and happiness (endorphins and dopamine). The unborn baby uses sucking to calm the tensions of the limbic system and brainstem. When you have a child who is still orally seeking, has long term pacifier use (or any pacifier dependency for calming) or who has difficulty feeding (breast or bottle) or never seems to “get full” or “be satisified” post eating, they may have a sucking reflex which is not properly integrated. This reflex emerges before the child is born and is fully integrated around 1.5-2 years old. The use of pacifiers or chewy tubes often will accompany biting which will activate tensions and is not helpful in integrating this very necessary reflex within the body.

The role of swallowing has a main function of survival, satisfying hunger, participating in digestion and providing satisfaction for the need of food. A delayed or dysfunctional swallowing pattern due to any disruption in the oropharyngeal musculature  can lead to anxiety and emotional disorders, problems with digestion, breathing and interfere with nerve system functioning (adrenaline and cortisol increase as the result of discomfort and/or pain). When the oropharyngeal structures and musculature coordinate in a safe swallow it can assure the fulfillment of basic needs, coordinates with sucking, breathing and chewing reflexes, helps regulate the homeostatic processes within the body, gives a sense of being nourished, helps with settling the boundary between the state of hunger or being overwhelmed with food.

Is your child hesitant to try new foods? Has an oversensitive gag reflex? Gets easily disturbed by new textures or tastes? Has any history of dysphagia, aspiration, choking while eating? Feels restless or not quite “satisified” by basic comforts (things are never enough)? These challenges can also be addressed with feeding therapy as well.

Establishing early feeding and swallowing patterns lead to healthy speech development as our articulators first learn and practice these early patterns of sucking, swallowing and chewing which later help align the jaw, give appropriate retraction, protrusion and tone to the lips and integrate movement patterns of the tongue. When these early patterns are successful, speech can develop typically.

These are a few examples of the many important early patterns in muscle development that can be assessed and addressed in the development of your child! Contact Family Tree Therapies for more information or to set up an evaluation.

Do you have questions regarding your child’s development? Have you shared your concerns with your doctor and not sure of your next steps? We get it.
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