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Speech and language therapy for a cleft lip and / or palate

What we do
Speech development in children born with a cleft palate 
When do I meet a speech and language therapist?
Location and contact details
Useful links

What we do

We are here to help you or your child develop the best possible speech.

We provide specialist speech and language assessment, management and advice to children and adults born with cleft lip and / or palate until they are 20 years old. We offer a similar service to clients with palate problems that are not caused by a cleft palate – please see the section on non-cleft velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI) at the bottom of this page.

To help assess how well your palate is working, we listen to how you talk. The soft palate should rise and fall as you speak. Its job is to seal off the nose from the mouth when it is lifted.

If your palate does not work well, too much air will pass through your nose. This will weaken some speech sounds and soften the tone of your voice. Some people describe this has having a ‘nasally sounding voice”’.

If necessary, we also carry out specialist speech investigation clinics. These clinics involve videofluoroscopy (x-ray) and nasendoscopy to check how the soft palate works during speech.

Download our leaflets on:

Speech development in children born with a cleft palate

Many children born with a cleft palate develop normal speech. Some children will need extra help.

Around half of all children with a cleft palate will benefit from speech therapy. Due to the cleft palate, these children might swap certain sounds for others. We can help children learn how to move their tongue, lips and teeth to create more accurate sounds.

Download this factsheet on cleft palate and how the palate works.

Around 20 percent of children born with a cleft palate continue to have too much air leaking through their nose after their palate has been repaired. In these cases, further surgery may be required.

The surgeon and speech and language therapist will explain to you if this might be needed. After surgery, further speech therapy might help improve your child’s clarity of speech.

When do I meet a speech and language therapist?

You will be introduced to a speech and language therapist when your baby is about six months old.

The therapist will give you basic information on how a cleft palate can affect speech development.

Check out these BBC videos on speech development in babies

When your baby is between 9 and 12 months old, you will be asked to attend a webinar. This will show you how to model sounds to help your child develop their best speech from the beginning.

Your child will have their first assessment when they are about 18 months old. This will look at their overall communication development, not just their palate function.

Speech and language therapists routinely monitor children’s speech, language development and palate function as necessary.

At joint cleft palate clinics, you and your child will see more members of the cleft team. These larger clinics happen when your child is approximately:

  • 3 years old
  • 5 years old
  • 7 years old (children born with a unilateral or bilateral cleft lip and palate)
  • 10 years old
  • 15 years old
  • 20 years old

Location and contact details

Speech and Language Therapy Team
Level 2
Children’s Hospital

Telephone: 028 9615 0320

If no one is available, please leave your name and number and a member of the team will contact you as soon as possible.

Useful links

Spires Cleft Centre – Resources for general speech and language development
Babble advice (video)
Fun ways to communicate with children at home (videos)

  • Non-cleft velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI)

    Some children do not have a cleft palate, but their soft palate may not close off the back of their throat properly.

    If your palate does not work well, it can lead to:

    • air escaping down your nose during speech
    • unusual speech patterns, for example lots of nasal sounds (‘m’ or ‘n’) or sounds at the back of your mouth (‘h’ or ‘uh’)
    • food and drink coming down your nose when eating and drinking
    • hearing difficulties or glue ear

    If you are concerned about your or your child’s speech at any age, please discuss this with your GP, or speech and language therapist. You can ring one of the speech and language therapists in the cleft team on: 028 9615 0320.