How to Choose a Speech Therapist for a Child with Cleft Palate

Many children with a repaired cleft palate will need speech therapy services at some point in their development. Parents often wonder if their child needs to be treated by a cleft palate specialist. This article will explain some things to consider when picking a speech therapist to work with a child with cleft palate.

Always pick a cleft palate team to monitor your child

Children with a cleft palate need routine, interdisciplinary care that involves a variety of professionals. A plastic surgeon, speech-language pathologist, and orthodontist are the three core disciplines needed for cleft palate team treatment. Many other specialty areas play a role in treatment as well—audiology, psychology, otolaryngology (ENT), dental, prosthodontics, and social work often collaborate to ensure good outcomes for kids with cleft palate.

Many parents wonder why they need to see a cleft palate team speech therapist when their child sees a speech therapist every week. When a team treats a high number of patients each year, the cleft team SLP gains expertise in assessing and treating cleft palate speech errors. The team SLP plays a critical role in monitoring a child’s progress following surgeries, and often guides the recommendations for when additional speech surgery may help improve a child’s ability to be understood.

How do I pick a speech therapist for my weekly sessions?

Because many families travel a distance to visit their cleft palate team for annual team appointments, it might be impossible to participate in weekly speech therapy with the cleft team therapist. As a result, there is often a second SLP who is more conveniently located closer to the child who can effectively provide regular therapy sessions. The local, treating therapist, should collaborate with the team therapist to make sure everyone is on the same page.  Here are a few considerations when picking a therapist for regular speech therapy sessions for your child with cleft palate.

Is the therapist willing to work with the team?

Children with cleft palate will undergo a number of surgeries and require dental and orthodontic work to get the best outcomes.  Working with a speech-language pathologist who is willing to talk with the team SLP and discuss the short-term and long-term goals for treatment may be the most important consideration. Even if an SLP has not treated a child with cleft palate recently, as long as they are willing to address therapy goals that the team requests, they can effectively support the child’s progress.

Is the therapist easy to get to and affordable?

Schedules are so busy, and depending on how frequently your child needs therapy, you may find yourself spending a lot of time going to and from the therapist’s clinic. Additionally, there are a number of factors that affect how much you may pay for therapy.  Some children with cleft palate will need therapy for a number of years, so it’s important to weigh these considerations when making a decision about speech therapy.

School based services are convenient because your child is seen in his or her own classroom. Services that take place in school are also available at no cost. These are two major benefits of school based speech therapy. The challenge is that criteria to qualify for special education services vary throughout the country, and in some areas, it can be hard for kids to get speech at school unless they are falling behind academically. Additionally, in some districts, speech therapists in schools have large numbers of kids they need to provide services to and as a result, kids are often in groups for therapy, or have a limited number of speech minutes per week. For kids with cleft palate, this may not be enough frequency of services to make enough progress.

You can always ask that your child with cleft palate receive more speech therapy through school. If you find that your child is not able to get enough therapy through school, looking for private therapy can be a good option.

Private speech therapy services take place in an outpatient clinic, private practice, via a home visit, or, like in Verboso’s case, online in your home. Private speech therapy services are almost always one on one and most often take place once to twice a week. Depending on the provider and your health insurance carrier, you may be able to claim coverage for some or all of the cost of therapy, especially if you child has a cleft palate and the speech therapy services are related to their medical diagnosis. Call your health insurance carrier to ask about your policy.

Paying for Therapy Services

If you do have health insurance coverage for speech therapy services, finding a provider who’s in network often makes sense to give you the most savings. Make sure that the therapist you choose is willing to work with the cleft palate team. Therapy techniques that are intended to strengthen the palate are not effective in treating cleft palate speech errors, so be cautious of therapists that describe treatment protocols that involve blowing bubbles or sucking through straws to try and exercise the palate.

If you don’t have speech therapy coverage through your health insurance, or have limited coverage for a small number of sessions, you may be looking for services that are affordable. The range of cost for private speech therapy can be large, and findings speech therapy services that are not prohibitively expensive is important when choosing a therapist for your child with cleft palate. If there is a university that has a graduate program for speech therapy near you, sessions with a graduate student in speech-language pathology can be high quality but lower cost.

Teletherapy for cleft palate speech

Teletherapy is another good option for private speech therapy for kids with cleft palate. A number of companies offer lower prices than traditional in-person private therapy. Therapy for cleft palate articulation errors can be effective using teletherapy. The same techniques that therapists use to teach new sounds in person work well in online sessions. Additionally, because the sessions can take place in the comfort of your own home and lower priced options exist, teletherapy may be a more feasible option for many families. If you’d like to read more about how to decide if teletherapy is a good choice for your family, check out our blog post.

Want to learn more?

Overall, there are many good options for speech therapy for kids with cleft palate. And, while most kids with cleft palate will need speech therapy at some point in their lives, their overall prognosis for great speech with close monitoring and regular therapy is strong. If you’re interested in learning if teletherapy for your child with cleft palate may be a good option for your family, check out Verboso’s options for cleft palate speech!