Oral Motor Goals in IEPs

By Shanti McGinley

Q: How should we write IEP goals for oral-motor?

The answer I always give is, “DON’T. Our goals are not to improve jaw, lip or tongue function. Our goals are to improve speech. WRITE SPEECH GOALS.” Oral-motor techniques are just that: TECHNIQUES. They are used to help us achieve the speech goals we have set.

For example, let’s say that we are working with a child who has no back sounds – no [k] or [g]. Our therapy techniques will be multisensory:

  • Visual – e.g., use a mirror, draw a picture, use a puppet, use your hands
  • Auditory – e.g., present a model, amplify it, prolong it, whisper it, make it salient
  • Tactile – e.g., touch the part of the tongue that needs to move
  • Proprioceptive – e.g., have the client press down the back of his tongue gently while he pushes it up
  • Verbal – e.g, tell him what to do, use vocabulary at his language level
  • Imaginative – e.g., “Make the crashing sound” or “Make the froggie sound”
  • Repetitive – drill the appropriate responses to make the client more aware of and in more control of the sounds and movements; use drill to gain voluntary control

I like to call traditional articulation therapy “Show and Tell Therapy.” We show the client what to do and we tell him about it. If that is all he needs, then that is all we do. Oral-motor techniques are the tactile and proprioceptive techniques that may be necessary to achieve the oral positions we desire. The oral movements and positions are not our end products: the speech sounds are.

6 thoughts on “Oral Motor Goals in IEPs”

  1. This is nuts. Most therapists dont do the oral motor component so adding it as an IEP goal can actually be helpful. Many kids with artic probs need to exercise their tongues and move their mouths in different ways beyond just the artic drills

    1. I don’t think we need to call any therapist’s opinion “nuts.” Not very professional. As Van Riper said, we all do this our own way.

      The reason I recommend NOT writing IEP goals for oral-motor is because of what happened in the 1990s. Once oral-motor techniques became widespread, there began to be many reports from parents nation-wide that some therapists were doing oral-motor activities INSTEAD of doing articulation therapy. These therapists thought that doing jaw, lip, and tongue “exercises” would help develop speech. Having taught hundreds of OM classes throughout the 1980s and 1990s, I felt partially responsible for this lack of understanding. Thus I began to teach firmly that OM is NOT the goal: Better speech is the goal. The OM methods are your means of moving toward the speech goal.

      For example, one should not, I believe, set a goal to have the child wiggle his tongue left and right. HOWEVER, one might use this method to unlock the undifferentiated and primitive tongue-jaw movement pattern that is preventing certain speech movement patterns to emerge. Waggling the tongue is a METHOD not a GOAL.

  2. What about in cases where the tongue is compromised such as in someone presenting with ankyloglossia? Would it be appropriate to include an oral motor goal then?

  3. I would say no because you will be working on speech or feeding goals/objectives. I suggest writing goals/objectives that address the targeted speech sound/s and/or feeding skills you are are targeting and how you get there may be with oral-motor or oral placement techniques, but you are actually measuring progress with improved speech sounds and feeding–not how many times they can lift their tongue tip to their alveolar ridge or how many times they can lateralize their tongue.

  4. I am a grad student and I would like to learn more about how to implement oral motor techniques as a method in therapy. I am interning with students with apraxia and other students who have oral motor goals (children who drool, or overall low tone). any suggestions would be great.

  5. I disagree. I believe oral motor goals should be written in conjunction with articulation and feeding goals. My fear is that universities are not educating SLPs as they should. We have had many new SLPs begin working with us and it’s like they have had no training at all.

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