Two Different Motor Pathways Argument

By Pam Marshalla

Q: What is your argument when others say that we should not be doing oral motor techniques because there are two different motor pathways, one for speech and one for simple movement?

I agree that simple non-task-specific exercises (i.e., “non-speech oral-motor exercises” or NS-OME) do not help speech. This is what recent research demonstrates.

For example, if one were to ask a child to move the jaw up-and-down as an “exercise,” this indeed would have nothing to do with speech. Moving the jaw up-and-down will not make new phonemes appear, nor will it correct distorted or substituted phonemes.

This type of simple non task-specific activity has its uses, however. It might help the client discover he has a jaw that can move. A non task-specific activity might, as Charles Van Riper said in 1939, vivify oral movement. Certain phonemes may emerge as a result of the client’s new discovery. But this is gross oral motor work that usually has a limited direct benefit to speech. The older articulation texts referred to this type of activity as “preparation” for speech, “warm-up” exercises, and as ways to encourage “flexibility of the articulators.”

Now, if you were to help your client learn to move his jaw up and down, and then you were to teach him how to move it that way in order to produce a specific phoneme within a specific syllable, then you are teaching him a speech movement. For example, if you were to teach him to move his jaw up and down, and then you were to teach him to move his jaw up-and-down to say “bah-bah” for the word “bye-bye,” then you are teaching him how to move his jaw for speech. Now you are creating a speech movement pathway.

The articulation literature from the beginning has always suggested that some clients need to learn the movement first, and then to use that movement in a speech production. What “oral motor treatment” brings to the table is a new understanding of how movements are organized, how they develop over time, how they breakdown, and how to facilitate them. The ideas come from occupational and physical therapy, neurodevelopmental treatment, sensorimotor integration, neurology, kinesiology, and other scientific endeavors. In an oral motor treatment regime, we are applying principles of motor therapy to the movements of speech. After all, speech is movement.

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