The longer I work as a speech language pathologist, the more I appreciate my work with occupational therapists. I checked in with my friend Jill Loftus at Honest OT in Denver, Colorado, to find out How Sensory Processing Impacts Speech Development.
It’s important to realize that the vestibular and auditory systems work together as they process sensations of movement and sound. These sensations are closely intertwined, because they both begin to be processed in the receptors of the ear.
Audition, or hearing, is the ability to receive sounds. We are born with this basic skill. The ability to hear does not guarantee, however, that we understand sounds. We learn about comprehension as we integrate vestibular sensation. Gradually, as we interact purposefully with our environment, we learn to interpret what we hear and to develop mature auditory processing skills.
Language is understanding what words mean and how we use them to communicate. Receptive language is language which we take in by listening and reading. Expressive language is what we put out by speaking or writing. Language and speech are closely related, but they are not the same. Speech is the physical production of sound. Speech skills depend on smoothly functioning muscles in the throat tongue, lips, and jaw.
The vestibular system impacts motor control and motor planning that are necessary to produce intelligible speech. Because the vestibular system is crucial for effective auditory processing, the child with vestibular dysfunction frequently develops problems with language.
How do these problems play out? Here are some common characteristics of children with poor auditory-language processing:
- May seem unaware of the source of sound and may look all around to locate where the sounds come form.
- May have trouble identifying voices or discriminating between sounds, such as the difference between “bear” and “bore.”
- May be unable to pay attention to one voice or sound without being distracted by other sounds.
- May be distressed by noises that are loud, sudden, metallic, or high – pitched, or by sounds that don’t bother others.
- May have trouble attending to, understanding, or remembering what she reads or hears.
- May misinterpret requests, frequently ask for repetition, and be able to follow only one or two instructions in sequence.
- May look to others before responding.
- May have trouble putting thoughts into spoken or written words.