Oral Motor Approach to Feeding and Speech - West Texas Rehab

Oral Motor Approach to Feeding and Speech

Aug 2023 Oral Approach

Oral Motor function and skill is something you may hear your Speech-Language Pathologist talk about in reference to your child’s speech and feeding therapy. What does Oral Motor mean anyway? Oral motor refers to the movement patterns and muscles of the mouth. So it makes sense that Oral Motor function and skill are important for speech and eating. Therefore, when we look at speech and feeding delays through the lens of oral motor functioning, we are able to more specifically identify and serve those patients whose speech and feeding skill delays are a result of an oral motor function deficit.

Oral motor function impacts five major areas:

  1. Awareness of pressure and movement – The body’s automatic response to sensory input i.e.(trigger of swallow or cough to protect the airway)
  2. Control of Secretions – swallowing saliva, adequate lip closure to prevent drooling
  3. Coordination for eating, drinking, talking, and facial expressions- just like we need coordination to walk and ride a bike, we need motor coordination to eat and drink a variety of consistencies safely and efficiently, and to coordinate speech movements along with breathe.
  4. Knowledge of the environment-sensory receptors (taste and touch) give information about objects within the environment i.e.( when babies mouth and chew to find out more about things around them)
  5. Control of movements for talking – early developing sounds require slower, larger movements for cooing (vowels) and as development progresses and muscle skills improve new sounds emerge with the vowel sounds i.e. babbling (bababa, mamama). Once coordination increases sound combinations become more complex i.e. (first words -> phrases -> sentences).

All of these areas are vital in the development of normal speech and feeding abilities. If there is significant weakness or deficit in oral motor function, feeding and speech development may be delayed or disordered for a child’s age i.e. (problems with drooling, tongue thrust, gagging, poor suck, poor eating, poor food texture grading, limited food preferences, and poor speech production).

What’s the next step? A Speech-Language Pathologist will do a comprehensive evaluation to look at all areas of speech, language, and/or feeding abilities. As a part of this evaluation, the SLP will determine if oral motor assessment is indicated. If oral motor assessment is warranted, the SLP will measure your child’s oral motor function and determine if oral motor intervention is indicated as an appropriate approach for speech or feeding therapy sessions.

Don’t we need to work on actual speech or eating tasks to improve these areas?

YES, in order to improve/develop adequate speech and/or feeding skills, the main target of therapy will be to practice speaking and/or eating. However, there is more than one way to build muscle strength, control, and coordination. Just like there are many different exercises to increase core strength i.e. (crunches, sit ups, plank). If we incorporate a variety of different ways to work and provide input to the muscles used for speech and feeding, the greater the functional strength and coordination outcome.

Will Oral motor intervention magically produce speech or increased feeding skills?

Not on it’s own. However, when paired with targeted speech or feeding intervention tasks, oral motor exercises can increase awareness and sensory input to the muscles which impact muscle activation, planning, programming, and execution. We need all of these components for everyday speech and feeding tasks.  To find out more information contact our Speech Therapy department in San Angelo or Abilene.  https://westtexasrehab.org/services/


Beckman, D. A. (1986 Rev. 2007) Beckman Oral motor Assessment and Intervention.

Published by Beckman & Associates, Inc.

620 N Wymore Rd STE 230, Maitland, Florida 32751-4253.


Written by:

Kalee Rupe M.S. CCC-SLP