A cleft palate is a type of facial birth defect in which a child is born with an opening in the boney part of the roof of the mouth. The extent of the cleft can vary from child to child in its severity and placement. In some children, the cleft may present as only a small opening in the roof of the mouth, while in others, it may extend all the way forward, creating a cleft in the upper lip as well. This type of cleft may extend all the way up to the base of the nostrils. In other cases, a child may only present with a cleft lip, with a fully intact palate.
A cleft is usually identified immediately after birth. Surgery is almost always employed to fix a cleft palate or lip. How soon after birth surgery can be performed depends on the type and extent of the palate, as well as the child’s overall health. In many cases, multiple surgeries are needed.
A child with a cleft palate will often have some difficulty with speech. Since there is an opening between the mouth and the nasal cavity, air will often flow out the nose during speech, creating a voice with a nasal quality. Since they’ve had to accommodate their cleft while learning to talk, children who have had a cleft will often move their tongue in atypical ways during speech, even after surgery. For example, a “d” or “t” sound may be produced in the back of the throat as a “g” or “k” sound, avoiding the roof of the mouth. A speech-language pathologist can help with any speech or communication issues that the child experiences. The speech therapist will work with the child to determine what sounds they have the most difficulty with, and help create more typical speech patterns. Children born with a cleft will often continue to work with a speech therapist over time as they undergo different surgeries and adapt to their changing speech.
Were you or a loved one born with a cleft palate? Share your story with us in the comments section! We love to hear from our readers.
If you are having difficulty with speech, language or communication of any type, don’t wait: find a speech-language pathologist to help! Visit our website at www.speechassociatesofny.com to see how one of our trained and certified speech-language specialists can help you get on the road to better communication.