This advice-column-style blog for SLPs was authored by Pam Marshalla from 2006 to 2015, the archives of which can be explored here. Use the extensive keywords list found in the right-hand column (on mobile: at the bottom of the page) to browse specific topics, or use the search feature to locate specific words or phrases throughout the entire blog.
Stimulating Tongue Movement
By Pam Marshalla
Q: Can you give me a short course on stimulating the tongue to move?
This is about as short and sweet as it could possibly be––
- The first thing to understand about the oral mechanism is that the muscles of the facial structures are contiguous and integral to the skin. This is different from the entire rest of the body where skin and muscles form completely separate structures. This means that tactile stimulation is the most powerful way to “wake up” the muscles of the tongue. Engage in a variety of tactile experiences on a regular basis, especially light brushing. Light brushing enlivens light work muscles, and the tongue muscles are light work muscles.
- The second thing to remember is that all movements develop from gross to fine. If your client cannot move the tongue at all, stimulate it to move in big gross ways first, with food and other appropriate oral toys. Also get the jaw to move more. More jaw movement stimulates more tongue movement.
- The third thing to remember is that resistance (adding weight) to movement is the most powerful method we have to get a body part to move in the direction we want it to. Therefore, if you want the tip of the tongue to go up, you press down gently but firmly on the tip and ask the client to push upward against the resistance. This works to help any part of the tongue rise––tip, back, or sides.
- The fourth thing to remember is that all movements stem from points of stability, and the tongue stabilizes itself in the back on the lateral margins. If the client’s tongue is hanging out or moving clumsily or inconsistently, it is because it is not anchored to the palate at the back lateral margins. Back-lateral stability is learning during infancy as the child acquires Long E (/i/).
- Last but not least, remember that jaw stability is what holds the tongue up near the palate for all the later-developing sounds. If your client is using the tongue but sounds immature or sloppy, make sure he is positioning the jaw high.