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College of Public Health

Parents play important role in helping kids with cleft palate, ETSU researcher says…

SAN DIEGO, CALIF. – Parents of children born with cleft lip or palate can play an important role in helping their child develop normal speech patterns if they participate in specific home-based learning activities.

That finding was reported last week by Dr. Nancy Scherer, chair/professor of communicative disorders at East Tennessee State University, during the annual American Speech-Language-Hearing Association convention in San Diego.

Through a grant from the Plastic Surgery Foundation of America and the Smile Train Initiative, Scherer piloted a home-based intervention program designed for parents of toddlers with cleft lip or palate. The project involved families in the Tri-Cities region and in Atlanta.

Parents of children 12-36 months of age were trained to model words and given various books, materials, and toys that can be used to develop activities with their youngsters at home. These techniques have been proven to help other children with language delays.

“The role of the parent is pivotal,” Scherer said. “Though the project lasted only three months, we saw phenomenal and promising results. Children in the study had increased their vocabulary and the production of sounds.”

In addition, Scherer said there was a reduction in “compensatory sounds” among these kids. Unique to children with cleft, compensatory sounds are produced in the larynx (voice box) and are a difficult problem to overcome once they are established.

“The fact that this program can prevent the production of compensatory sounds is promising news in itself,” she said. “Young children with cleft palate show delays in vocabulary and sound production and often create compensatory sounds, and this program addresses all three of those problems.”

Parents of all education and socioeconomic levels were able to learn and implement the techniques, the study also found. Scherer said that the home-based program was used as the sole means of therapy and in conjunction with the child seeing a speech-language pathologist.

The project is currently undergoing some revisions and is also being used to train clinicians and community health personnel working with children in developing countries such as India.

Scherer is continuing to evaluate patients with cleft lip and palate at the ETSU Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, which is an affiliation of the College of Public and Allied Health. For more information, call (423) 439-4355.



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