Ask a Therapist: Tongue Placement

Posted by Deborah Grauzam on

Hi, I am hoping you can offer a suggestion.

I am an SLP and see a 2 YO child who began sucking on his tongue and had a forward tongue posture before I started seeing him. Once I started working with him I had the family switch to straws only and eliminated the sippy cup. They did that and he continued to have tongue sucking behaviors. Now, he has switched to twisting/turning his tongue around his mouth and it is interfering with his speech sound productions.

I tried to introduce vibration to provide sensory stimulation, but he does not tolerate that in his mouth. I also gave him a chewy tube as a substitution and he will tolerate it, but it is not eliminating the problem.

Do you have any product suggestions? I would greatly appreciate it. He has no drooling, no muscle weakness, and no feeding difficulties. I have never seen a child do this before.

Thank you in advance for any suggestions or product recommendations!

I have a few thoughts on this to help you:

1. Make sure there is not a structural or physiological problem, for example enlarged tonsils and adenoids. If the tongue must be displaced forward for breathing for example it could start these odd habits. Look for a tongue tie.

2. The sensory-motor systems cannot be separated. Though you say there are no feeding issues, I suspect there may be some breakdown in oral-motor development. Look carefully at developmental norms. This will soon be available in the feeding book Lori and I wrote, or you can look into taking Lori's feeding class if you have not already. If this child sucks his tongue at rest, there may be similar patterns on the straw.

3. Use of chewy tubes and sensory motor activities are most useful when you work from the outside of the mouth to the inside of the mouth and the therapy is led by the therapist. So I would not recommend handing the chewy tube to the child, but rather follow Lori's pre-feeding Chewing Hierarchy.

4. Finally, for the tongue sucking, I would recommend tasks that work on tongue retraction. The TalkTools Straw program and TalkTools Horn program, when executed by the directions on the tools kits would be excellent, as would TalkTools Bubble Kit. If you wanted to learn more, we have self-study courses for each of these kits!

Thanks for your interest in TalkTools!

Robyn Merkel-Walsh

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