Spinal muscle atrophy (SMA) is a serious genetic disease characterized by the loss of motor neurons, or nerve cells that control the movement of voluntary muscles. Without these nerve cells, muscles weaken and atrophy over time. Basic activities essential to everyday life, from sitting up and walking to breathing and speaking, are often affected in people with this disease.

What is speech therapy?

Speech therapists work with SMA patients who have difficulty speaking, chewing, and swallowing. Therapists design a program of exercises to strengthen jaw and throat muscles, as well as suggesting aids that may make day-to-day tasks easier.

For patients with difficulty eating and swallowing, speech therapists help them work to strengthen the muscles involved in these tasks, as well as recommend foods that may be easier for patients to manage.

For those who have difficulty communicating, a speech therapist can help choose appropriate non-verbal communication devices or strategies that might allow them communicate their thoughts and needs more effectively.

When are speech therapists needed?

Not all SMA patients have difficulty speaking and swallowing, but problems may develop as the disease progresses. Patients should meet with a speech therapist as soon as possible after diagnosis if speech, language, or swallowing are affected. For young children with SMA, speech therapy can help to ensure as little a delay as possible in their developing language skills.

Speech therapy is tailored to the individual’s needs and capabilities. Across the many types of SMA, there is a varied range of symptoms. Some patients may need speech therapy from diagnosis onward, while others may never need such assistance.

During the initial evaluation, the speech therapist may perform diagnostic tests, including an X-ray while the patient is eating or drinking barium-infused liquids or barium-coated cookies. This allows the therapist to observe which muscles are not functioning as they should, and helps guide the therapist in designing an optimal plan for a patient.

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SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.