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Learn About Oral Motor Speech Disorders

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Article Written By: Victoria Mannella-Gupta

Before children learn to walk, they develop muscle strength and coordination in their legs. The same is true for learning to speak. Children must develop strength in their muscles and coordination of the lips, tongue, and jaw in order to eat, drink, and speak.

Additionally, the brain needs to send signals to the muscles to tell them how and when to move. This is a common issue for Childhood Apraxia of Speech where the message is sent from the brain to the muscles improperly. A child may have difficulty moving these muscles accurately, even if their muscles are not weak*.

What is an oral-motor disorder?

Difficulty moving lips, tongue, and jaw muscles for eating, drinking, and speaking.

Two common oral-motor disorders:

1. Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS): Difficulty moving and coordinating different parts of their mouths in order to form words. The problem is how the brain tells the muscles to move.

2. Articulation disorders: A lisp, leaving out consonants when speaking, and substituting one sound for another.

Signs of oral-motor and speech-motor disorders*

  • droopy, or “long” face (mouth frequently hangs open)

  • refuse to eat food that needs to be chewed

  • gag frequently when eating (not only due to disliking the food)

  • weigh less and may be shorter than other children their age

  • difficulty sticking out = tongue or moving it from side to side

  • hard to understand

  • drool past the age of 18 months

  • excessive lisp

  • take extra time to form words while speaking

  • use mostly vowel sounds after 18 months (“aah-aah” instead of “mama”)

  • leave out some consonants in words at age three ( “at” instead of “cat”)

  • add extra sounds to words (“animinal” instead of “animal”)

  • substitute certain sounds when speaking (“wittle” instead of “little”). However, this can also be common in young toddlers, so it should improve between 2-3 years old.

  • have trouble stringing together syllables in the right order (“minacin” instead of “cinnamon”)

What causes oral-motor disorders?*

The brain’s ability to send the right signals to the mouth muscles, genetics, hearing difficulties, or birth defects such as cleft palate.


Children with oral-motor issues can benefit greatly from speech and language therapy. At Empower Communication, our speech-language pathologists have training in Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic targets (PROMPT), which is a tactile-kinesthetic approach to help shape correct movements of the articulators.

If you have any concerns or questions about your child’s oral motor movements, reach out to us today!

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA):

*Top questions about oral-motor and motor-speech disorders. (2019). What to expect.

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