In many neurological disorders, the ability to speak clearly and express oneself becomes difficult. Speech therapy, sometimes referred to as speech and language therapy, can help a person to speak and communicate more effectively. Therapists can help identify speech problems in patients and suggest ways to alleviate those problems.
Difficulties in speech vary between patients and are evaluated by an expert called a speech-language pathologist (SLP), who works with patients to help them in their social communication, fluency, and articulation of words.
Speech therapy uses several methods to improve communication, based on an SLP’s assessment, including strengthening of the mouth muscles, matching emotions with facial expressions, trying to understand body language, and voice modulation.
Speech therapy for Rett syndrome
One of the most prominent symptoms of Rett syndrome is difficulty in communication. Speech and language therapy for children with Rett syndrome can help parents or caregivers better understand the needs of the child and respond accordingly.
The loss of speech may be sudden or gradual, and is often accompanied by the loss of manual dexterity. To devise an effective regimen, an SLP tries to understand a child’s behavior before speech development (prelinguistic communication) — behaviors such as making eye contact, touching, rejecting contact, and reaching out. The SLP then works towards stimulating language, improving eye contact, and developing visual and cognitive skills to improve communication.
Speech therapy is continued throughout the stages of Rett syndrome and is adapted according to the changing needs of the child. SLPs may also use technological aids such as apps or devices to help with effective communication.
Alternative augmentative communication (AAC)
Children who face difficulty in speaking may prefer using visual cues or sign language to express their intentions. This form of communication is called alternative augmentative communication (AAC), which is divided into categories based on the level of technology used: no tech, low/medium tech, and high tech.
In no tech AAC, an SLP uses signs, pictures, flash cards, objects, and body language, but no speech, and observes the response pattern of the child.
Low/medium tech AAC includes devices with voice output, and the child has only one choice to produce an action. For example, pressing a switch activates something like playing a song or showing a picture.
High tech AAC offers the greatest flexibility and includes the use of computers and special programs to help with communication. It can help in the development of cognitive abilities and motor function as the child needs to physically interact with the device.
In addition to personal one-on-one communication, speech therapy can help with social communication by teaching children how to communicate with friends and other social groups.
Finally, an SLP can assess any breathing and swallowing difficulties and suggest workarounds for feeding-related challenges to ensure sufficient nutrition intake.
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