Oral Sensory Issues and Speech Delay: Understanding the Connection

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Every day there are over 380,000 babies born around the world. Unfortunately, thousands of infants and kids show signs of different inborn conditions.

One of those conditions is a sensory problem called SPD or Sensory Processing Disorder.

Doctors and experts worldwide are still investigating whether the condition is an official disorder. However, SPD affects children’s lives worldwide, altering their bodily functions.

Out of the eight SPD types, we will focus more on oral sensory issues and speech delay.

Speech delay is a separate issue that SPD can also cause. Most of the time, they are present alongside each other.

So, let’s help you define and understand both terms and their possible connection.

An Overview of Oral Sensory Processing

Oral sensory processing is a harmonious bodily process involving three sensory systems surrounding the mouth. The three sensory systems working with each other are:

  • Tactile: A sensory system that is in charge of giving pieces of information about the temperature and texture of an object inside the mouth.
  • Taste: Bits of information gathered by the tongue are categorized into one of the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami.
  • Proprioception: In this sensory process, the jaw gives out the necessary information to your brain, like the size, hardness, and location of an object inside the mouth.

What Is Oral Sensory Processing Disorder?

Manifestations of any abnormality in these sensory systems could mean an absence of, or either over or undersensitive oral input. Some kids even experience both under and oversensitivity at the same time.

It means not one child shares the same degree of oral sensory issues.

Signs of Oral Sensory Processing Disorder

Oral SPD is the culprit of many oral issues in children. It is better to observe your child before seeing a doctor.

Here are seven signs that may help identify a child who has oral SPD:

  • Cries every mealtime
  • Has delayed eating achievements
  • Constantly has food falling from the mouth
  • Frequently gagging
  • Often drools
  • Repeatedly refuses food
  • Has an uncommon taste preference
  • Experiences regular vomiting

People at Risk of Developing This Condition

Genetic problems may lead to more disorders affecting sensory processing. The following are conditions that make one at risk of having oral SPD:

  1. Extremely premature infants with gastrointestinal problems
  2. Extremely premature infants with respiratory problems
  3. Extremely premature infants with neurological disorders
  4. Newborns with genetic syndromes

Conditions Linked to Oral and Other SPD

Several doctors doubt the probability of sensory issues being a stand-alone disorder. Despite that fact, many people still experience conditions solely related to SPD.

Adults also suffer from sensory issues, but the difficulties affect children the most. The conditions or disorders with possible linkages to oral and other types of sensory processing disorders are as follows:

  • ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder: Persons with autism have altered neural pathways that cause difficulty processing information.
  • ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Persons with ADHD have sensory overload, making it difficult to process sensory stimuli.
  • Schizophrenia: Persons with schizophrenia have different mechanisms in the brain sensory pathway. Altered senses are present because of the way the brain creates and organizes neuron connections.
  • Sleeping Disorders: Delirium caused by sleep deprivation may cause sensory processing issues.
  • Developmental delays are common in children and adults with sensory processing problems.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is also a possible root of sensory disorders.


Parents who observe irregular behavior in their offspring may feel confused or alone. They are highly encouraged to seek medical attention if they feel or observe that their kids are experiencing worsening oral sensory issues.

A family doctor may refer you to occupational therapists who can conduct a series of tests to evaluate your child suspected of having SPD.

It is time to have your child diagnosed if they are showing continual signs of the following:

  • The constant interruption of daily life and activities
  • An abrupt and frequent manifestation of symptoms
  • Hard-to-manage reactions towards speaking and communication
  • Troubled learning
oral sensory issues and speech delay

An Overview of Normal Speech Development

Speech is the physical act of conveying messages through sounds, words, and sentences. It is possible with the help of muscles around the mouth and their connection with our brain.

Multiple causes arise when diagnosing speech delays, but parents are the ones who observe their children daily. It is essential to monitor your child’s speech development patterns.

The typical speech development pattern is speech milestones infants achieve until they become children. It usually starts with cooing, echolalia, word formations, to sentence formations.

Failing to meet these achievements may indicate that a child experiences speech and language delays.

Here are the following milestones matching the expected ages a child learns it:

  • 1 to 6 Months: An infant learns to coo, responding to voices and sounds
  • 6 to 9 Months: An infant usually learns to babble
  • 10 to 11 Months: An infant usually learns to imitate sounds without meaning. For example, the sound of “mama/papa/mommy/dada.”
  • 12 Months: An infant usually learns to say words with meanings. Here is where an infant might learn to speak up to three-syllable words.
  • 13 to 15 Months: A child is 20% understandable.
  • 16 to 18 Months: A point where a child can form a vocabulary of 10 words. Here a child is 20% to 25% understandable.
  • 19 to 21 Months: A child can form a vocabulary of up to 20 words. 50% of speech is understandable.
  • 22 to 24 Months: A child can form a vocabulary of more than 50 words. May learn to speak out two-word phrases from jargon. 60% of speech is understandable.
  • 2 to 2 ½ Years: A vocabulary of up to 400 words, names, three-word phrases, pronouns included. Echolalia is slowly diminishing. 75% of speech is understandable.
  • 2 ½ to 3 Years: A child usually learns to use plurals and tenses. They also correctly count three objects and form three to five words in a sentence. At this point, 80% to 90% of speech is understandable.
  • 3 to 4 Years: A child may form three to six-word sentences. They may start to ask questions. They can now converse, relate to shared experiences, and tell stories. Almost 100% of speech is now understandable.

What Is Speech Delay?

A child experiencing speech delay fall behind in speech achievements for their age because of the underdevelopment of oral-motor muscles. The late detection of speech delays causes life-altering difficulties later in their lives.

Effects of Untreated Speech Delay

Untreated oral sensory issues greatly affect the following:

  1. Academic: Speech delays significantly affect learning. It limits the times a child can mimic sounds and words in their environment, resulting in lesser communication and better understanding. 
  2. Emotional: Delays are frustrating, especially for toddlers and children. Often they cannot convey the messages that they want to express. Speech delay can cause frequent bouts of emotional stress for them.
  3. Social: Miscommunication or the lack thereof due to speech delay may affect a person’s social life. Being misunderstood makes way for different interpretations of messages. It may affect how strangers see and understand them.
  4. Vocational: Communication is essential in many workplaces, and poor communication skills may deter the quality of work. People with speech delays may experience difficulties in finding a fitting job.

It is important to note that not all people with speech delay experience these impacts.

Many people with speech delays can outgrow or rehabilitate their condition with the help of expert care. Many successful figures in history lived through their lives with speech delays.

Oral Sensory Issues and Speech Delay: The Connection

Humans obtain intelligible speech by exercising and developing specific muscles around the oral cavity. Oral sensory issues and speech delays are two different problems with different causes but can manifest alongside each other.

Experts believe that oral sensory issues are not a stand-alone disorder.

Many children with oral sensory processing disorder have speech delays. However, speech delays do not necessarily equate to oral sensory processing disorder. They have a few similar linkages to other conditions but not all.

Available SPD and Speech Delay Treatments

Teaching children how to manage the challenges of having SPD and speech delay is vital. Early detection will significantly aid their treatment.

These treatments take the form of therapy sessions. A trained and licensed therapist must do the sessions; otherwise, more problems may occur.

These sessions determine whether the child is under or oversensitive (or both), and there are different options for treatment based on the child’s sensitivity.

Here is a list of possible treatment options:

Sensory Diet

A sensory diet is a series of regular activities at home or school conducted to improve the child’s focus. Activities inside a sensory diet include timed regular walks and playing with toys.

Sensory Integration Therapy or SI

Sensory Integration programs are determined based on the child’s needs, similar to sensory diet. This treatment’s primary goal is to condition the patient’s reaction to stimuli and make it regular.

Fun and stimulating activities are conducted regularly inside a controlled environment to help the child cope with skills to handle challenges.

Occupational Therapy

Activities inside occupational therapy sessions may include motor skills-improving activities like:

  • Writing and drawing
  • Using scissors or tools
  • Throwing a ball
  • Climbing the stairs
  • Eating using utensils

How Can Parents Help Their Child?

As someone who cares for a child suffering from oral SPD and/or speech delay can be challenging. Hence, these are tips that parents can keep in mind:

  1. Advocate for awareness
  2. Maintain consistency with your child
  3. Seek support from co-parents
  4. Talk with your child’s doctors and therapists
  5. Talk with your child’s teacher
  6. Frequently check your child’s wellbeing
  7. Purchase educational toys that can help in the development of your child

Oral Sensory Issues and Speech Delays Are Manageable

There is no cure for oral sensory issues and speech delays, only remedies and alleviation. People with SPDs might experience lesser challenges as they grow older.

Doctors who detect this condition treat sensory issues alone but tend to target a more rooted cause or disorder. Oral and other sensory processing disorders are yet to be considered official.

Having a loved one or a family member with SPD or speech delays can be challenging, but the hurdles are not insurmountable. Lend a hand and support those who are also experiencing the same obstacles.

Remember that professional care and medical attention will impact these conditions for good. Make sure to observe and take note of possible signs and address it as soon as possible.