What Is A Cleft And How Does It Affect Communication?

JulyAwareness_IconOnlyDid you know that 4,437 children are born with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate in the United States every year? Each July organizations across the country raise public awareness of cleft and other craniofacial disorders with National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month. In support of this campaign, we’re dedicating this week’s blog to providing some basic information about what clefts are and how they impact communication.

What exactly is a “cleft”?
A cleft is a condition that a child is born with in which either the lip, palate (roof of the mouth), or both have a split. The size and location of the cleft can vary from child to child. Typically, a child born with a cleft will have surgery during infancy in which the cleft is repaired. However, for a range of reasons many children are unable to get surgery until later in life, and there may be issues with speech or communications or other complications which remain even after the cleft has been repaired.

How does a cleft impact a child’s speech?
A cleft can cause a range of communication issues depending on where it is and how large it is. With a cleft palate, an opening is created which connects the mouth and the nasal cavity which allows air to come out of a child’s nose as they talk, making speech sound overly nasal. The cleft can also affect the way a child moves their tongue when they speak, especially if the cleft was repaired later in life, after the child began to learn to speak. Since they’ve had to accommodate their cleft while learning to talk, children may avoid sounds that involve the roof of the mouth; for example, a “d” or “t” sound may be produced in the back of the throat as a “g” or “k.” For children with a cleft lip, sounds like “b”, “p”, and “m” can also be problematic. A speech-language pathologist can help a child learn to produce sounds that have been impacted by the cleft in an intelligible way. 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.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about speech-language therapy, give me a call at (212) 308-7725 or send an e-mail to jayne@speechassociatesofny.com. I’d be happy to chat and answer any questions you may have.

© 2016, Speech Associates of New York – All Rights Reserved

Source: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/CraniofacialBirthDefects/PrevalenceCleft%20LipCleftPalate.htm
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