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Movement for Speech Therapy

One SLP shares how yoga helps her clients.

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Yoga has become a popular form of exercise in American culture. It is important to recognize that yoga is more than just physical exercise, it is also beneficial for the brain and the central nervous system. Yoga works on balancing out the right and left hemispheres of the brain by increasing the communication at the level of the corpus callosum, which is the master communicator between the right and left hemispheres.

Many of the kids I work with as a speech-language pathologist also have sensory processing disorders or motor incoordination disorders in addition to their language differences. These disorders involve the vestibular system, which contributes to balance and the sense of spatial orientation. When the vestibular system is not functioning properly, many side effects can happen in speech therapy sessions and classroom environments. These include clumsiness, erratic movements, difficulty staying in a defined, wiggling and having to move. These behaviors are a result of the body's need to feel stable and balanced. 

 It is important to realize that these motor impairments do not resolve with age.  In fact the gap between these children and normally developing children actually widens. Obviously kids who are constantly moving and unable to sit still are left untreated for their speech-language diagnoses. That is why we need to intervene, to stop the problem from persisting even more.  

Why I Added Yoga

I was a yoga practitioner and felt stress release and more balanced after a yoga practice. I also learned how to relax and let go of that which I could not control. I wanted to teach the kids the same gifts that I have gleaned from practicing yoga.  I wanted my own children, along with speech and language students, to experience what I was feeling.  That is when I decided to embark on a series of yoga teacher trainings for both adults and children. 

I have been using yoga in speech therapy for approximately three years. My kids and other speech students had shared with me that they do not feel comfortable in their own bodies. They move and squirm because they do not feel comfortable. After a session of yoga, they feel more grounded and comfortable. 

A typical session depends upon how wiggly or tired and lethargic the students appear. I start the speech session as a group. If students are moving around, I will have them do "get it all out pose" where they stomp their feet on the floor as hard and long as they want to get their energy out. Sitting up straight helps with breathing, which mindfully helps the student relax and helps with speech. Inhaling and exhaling raises awareness of breath. A warm-up with ocean breath connects breath to movement. Shoulder rolls warm up the throat center.

I then have them take their speech turns and between each turn, I give them a pose to do to stay focused and not bother other students. Articulation students can practice their words and sounds while simultaneously doing a pose. I have a yoga mat in the corner of the room where students can do the poses on the yoga cards that I have given them. If frustration occurs during intervention, I have them punch the air as hard as they want and for as long as they want and then smile when finished. 

If the entire group is unfocused, I will have everyone in the group do a 5 minute sequence. The poses simultaneously work on spatial concepts and awareness, body awareness, emphasis on the breath, which helps speech production, and the parasympathetic nervous system which stimulates the relaxation response enabling a much more productive therapy session. 


For more on yoga poses for speech therapy, see our corresponding photo gallery.

 

Christine L. Ristuccia, M.S. CCC-SLP, is president  of Say It Right.

 

 

 


 

Hello!
I am currently a senior studying Speech Pathology at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, and I am also an avid yogi. As I have learned more about the basis of various speech disorders (particularly stuttering) I have become extremely interested in the idea of combining the power of yoga with speech therapy. I am currently looking into graduate programs (and will be applying in a few months) and am wondering if there are any graduate schools that would allow me to study this combination more in depth that you are aware of?
Thank you so much for this information! Very inspiring article for someone who is looking into yoga as a form of alternative therapy!

Mackenzie DowdyJuly 11, 2013
Robesonia, PA



Thank you for the article! It is so encouraging to know that there are other therapists who believe in the power of movement, especially yoga, in working with children with speech and language issues. As a yoga teacher and Speech Language pathologist who works with young children it is difficult to just treat speech and language when there are so many other factors at play. Further, I believe delayed speech and language is ususally just one symptom and that it is not enough to just treat this alone. By using movement and yoga it stimulates the mind body connection and can faciliate improved speech and language from a core level and not by merely addressing the symproms. I would love to some day put together a workshop for other speech language pathologists that directly targets movement (i.e. yoga, dance) and speech/language.

Molly Francis,  SLPJune 05, 2013
Cambridge, MA



I'm a certified SLP and children's yoga teacher. I completely agree with this article. Using yoga with children with special needs increases a child's focus/ attention and can help them relax during times of internal stress.

Jennifer Gaum, MA, CCC-SLP
yogabears.blogspot.com

Jennifer GaumAugust 08, 2012



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