Tongue Thrust Therapy: Speech Disorders in Intelligent Kids


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Gunner’s Story.pps

You have 7 seconds to make a first impression! Within the first 7 seconds, people decide if they want to hire you or date you or even be your friend. That’s quick! When you make a new acquaintance, you better be on your toes….that means have an engaging smile, clear speech, direct eye contact and appropriate social etiquette.

If you met 11-year-old Gunner today, your first impression would be positive. He’s the kind of kid teachers name as most likely to succeed and peers elect as president. His fellow basketball players choose him as team captain, and children want to be his friend. He gives the impression of an articulate, disciplined person who excels academically and athletically. He presents as a thoughtful, kind person who is a wise confidante and devoted friend.

This is a different Gunner from the one I met a year ago!  Oh, he was always an intelligent, kind, thoughtful person…his parents took care of that.  But, upon first meeting him, he didn’t  present as a high achiever.  And the longer we chatted, the more delayed he appeared.

There was something about Gunner’s appearance that wasn’t quite right. His toneless lips hung almost two inches apart. The weight of his open lips pulled his cheeks and eyelids down, giving him a dull, drowsy, lackluster appearance. His smile revealed huge gaps in his mouth where teeth were missing. His tongue rested forward in his mouth, protruding between his sparse teeth. Remember, this is a 10-year-old boy whose front teeth should have emerged years ago.

Although Gunner’s untoned facial muscles were unflattering to his appearance, the most obvious problem was his speech. He spoke like a toddler–distorting every one of the 21 different ‘r’ sounds in the English language, including ‘r’ like in “run” ‘tr’ like in “train” and ‘er’ like in “Gunner”. He also mispronounced all of his sibilant sounds– ‘s’, ‘z’, ‘sh’, ‘ch’ and ‘j’–with a sloppy lateral lisp. With so many distortions, Gunner’s speech was clear to me only 70% of the time. By age 3, we typically understand children’s speech 80% of the time. At Gunner’s age, by 5th grade, we should understand 98%…..exactly what we expect of an adult.

His mother was sick with worry. Gunner had been in the speech therapy program at school since age 6 with little to no success. She had recently listened to him introduce a school speech and grimaced as he referred to himself as “Gunno”.  Her intelligent, articulate, confident son was beginning to avoid speaking engagements and new social interactions. He was becoming fearful of being ridiculed and misunderstood.

Gunner’s medical history clarified the problem. He was a thumb sucker until age 4; a habit which pushed his teeth out of alignment and kept his tongue from resting up on his palate where it belonged. Between his chronic allergies and ear infections, he had suffered from frequent respiratory problems and evolved into an open-mouth breather. To address his breathing problems, his tonsils and adenoids had been removed at age 6, but he was still “constantly stuffed up”.

His toneless tongue was dysfunctional for swallowing and speech. Imagine trying to articulate the complex sounds of  ‘s’, and ‘z’ and ‘r’ without any muscle tone….it doesn’t work. Your tongue must be taut and toned, more like a hotdog than a hamburger, and suctioned up onto your palate in speech-ready position to pronounce those sophisticated sounds.

Gunner seemed to be on the never-ending-path-to-nowhere with his school-based speech therapy. His parents weren’t willing to risk continuing on that path.

They scheduled Gunner’s speech and tongue thrust evaluation for January, 2013, and Gunner started therapy by the end of the month. He strengthened his tongue and knocked out the ‘r’ sounds first. It was extremely important to pronounce “Gunner” correctly. It took him only 3 months to conquer the ‘r’s, and doing so increased Gunner’s speech clarity to 85%!

Then 3 months later, after he had made a habit of resting his tongue up on his palate, he mastered the ‘s’ s and ‘z’s too. There is a preponderance of ‘r’, ‘s’, and ‘z’ in the English language; so correcting those sounds greatly enhanced Gunner’s speech clarity. By now, I could understand 95% of his speech–that’s a 25% gain in 6 months!

But Gunner’s speech was still occasionally difficult to understand, and certain words were still messy. For me, and everyone else listening to Gunner, it was hard to get past that sloppy lateral lisp. It was those incorrigible ‘sh’, ‘ch’ and ‘j’ sounds that were the problem. Gunner had jaw weakness which was messing up those. So…he did jaw exercises two times a day, and now, 3 months later, he has turned the corner on those sounds as well.

Last time I talked to Gunner, for the most part, his speech sounded just like yours and mine. He was able to describe “shooting a free throw” with perfect diction.

His lips were closed, and his eyes were alert and twinkly. When he did break into a smile, he revealed a full set of permanent teeth.   See for yourself! Gunner is a handsome, healthy, happy-looking preteen.

Even more importantly, Gunner has a better quality of life. He has learned to control his congestion and breathe through his nose; his allergies rarely flare up and he can usually fight off colds. Imagine how much better he feels, which in turn, will increase his chances for success.

I think we would all agree that great health, good looks and clear diction beget success!

The truth is…Gunner is destined for greatness! He’s an ‘A’ honor roll student! He’s a talented athlete! He has the discipline and determination to conquer his hurdles in the face of adversity! He will go far!

But Gunner couldn’t have conquered this hurdle alone. Fortunately for Gunner, his parents jumped in and got him help before his speech disorder took over his life. And they did their research and found the BEST combination of services for Gunner…they found us to provide his combined speech and tongue thrust therapy…even if they had to do it over Skype. Oh…did I forget to mention that Gunner lives in Wisconsin?

Parents, you must advocate for your kids. Whether they have speech disorders, literacy challenges or social issues, you must be the ones to find appropriate professional help and get your children on the path to success.

If you have a child with speech problems, tongue thrust, or challenges with oral or written language, call us at 858.509.1131. The earlier the better. We are here to help your children overcome their hurdles and share their unique gifts with the world.

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