Cleft lip and palate - improving speech therapy | Children's Charity

Cleft lip and palate - improving speech therapy

Project LeaderDr J Cleland PhD BSc(Hons) MRCSLT
Project team
  • Ms L Crampin BMedSci Hons
LocationPsychological Sciences and Health, University of Strathclyde
Other locations
  • Speech and Language Therapy Department, Glasgow Dental Hospital
Duration15 months
Grant awarded21 November 2016
Provisional start date1 January 2017
Provisional end date31 March 2018
Grant amount£42,739.00
Grant codeGN2544

We do not provide medical advice. If you would like more information about a condition or would like to talk to someone about your health, contact NHS Choices or speak to your GP. Please see our useful links page for some links to health information, organisations we are working with and other useful organisations. We hope you will find these useful. We are not responsible for the content of any of these sites.

A cleft lip or palate affects around one in 700 babies. It occurs when the roof of the mouth does not fuse properly while a baby is in the womb. Despite surgery to repair the cleft, many children continue to have problems producing easy-to-understand speech and this can adversely affect both their educational and social development. Normally, when a speech therapist assesses a child, they listen to the child speaking and write down the errors they hear. However, children with cleft palate are known to have speech errors which cannot be easily distinguished by ear. For example, a child may try to say  tea  ( t  produced with tongue tip) and it may be heard as  key  because they are using both the tip and back of the tongue and producing  t  and  k  sounds simultaneously. This type of error can only be diagnosed by using instruments which allow visualisation of the tongue during speech. It is important to make an accurate diagnosis so that the therapist can choose the right treatment - with the wrong treatment, the error may become more deeply ingrained in the child's speech. 

The research project
These researchers want to develop an ultrasound speech assessment for children with cleft lip and palate. By placing an ultrasound scanner under the chin, it is possible to see the movement of the tongue during speech. The team will record and analyse these movements in a group of around 48 children with cleft lip and palate aged between three and 15 years to see if ultrasound can effectively diagnose typical speech errors. They will then invite eight of these children to take part in a trial to see if ultrasound can also be used in speech therapy. The children will be able to see their tongue moving as they speak and the researchers will assess if this helps them to correct their speech. Early results in two children have been encouraging and the team aim to find out if speech visualisation by ultrasound has the potential to help more children with cleft lip and palate improve their speech. Further, larger scale studies will be needed, but ultimately, this work could lead to ultrasound becoming recommended for the diagnosis and treatment of speech disorders in children affected by this relatively common abnormality.

This grant is a jointly funded award from Action Medical Research and The Chief Scientist Office (CSO), Scotland.​

Help us spread the word