Oral motor exercises to improve jaw stability in children with Down Syndrome


A very special thank you to the Down Syndrome Centre…..please be sure to click on the link above for more information and services for parents of children with Down Syndrome.  I am excited to share the strategies listed below with my readers…..and also excited to have learned some additional information so that I can better help those in need.  Please post with any questions….and be sure to click on the link above to access more information.


Oral-Motor Therapy: Devising your own Oral-Motor Home Program

Oral-Motor Therapy: Devising your own Oral-Motor Home ProgrammeDeveloping oral-motor skills in children with Down Syndrome should be an important part of your child’s speech-language therapy programme. Targeting oral-motor skills from an early age will increase your child’s oral awareness; aid in strengthening the muscles used for eating, drinking and talking, as well as reduce tongue protrusion. Oral-motor therapy can be done throughout the day using everyday fun activities to target specific areas of the mouth. Over the next few weeks I will supply you with a list of activities recommended to increase your child’s oral muscle tone and improve jaw, tongue, and lip mobility and strength. This week we will look at developing adequate stability of the jaw to support the isolated and sequenced movements needed for speech.

The Jaw

Young children with Down Syndrome have low postural tone. This low postural tone affects the stability of your child’s jaw. The jaw needs to be stable in order for the tongue to move in a coordinated manner during eating, drinking and talking. But unfortunately, most children with Down Syndrome have difficulty with jaw stability. This is particularly evident when children are eating, drinking or talking. They might use large up and down jaw excursions during such tasks which can affect speech intelligibility or make chewing of food difficult. You can help to improve your child’s jaw stability by introducing some of the following activities.

1.    Stimulate the muscles of the jaw. The temporo-mandibular joint, is the hinge of the jaw and can be found in front of your ear and below the cheekbone on the upper part of the jaw. If you put your fingers on this spot you can feel how your jaw moves when you open and close your mouth. You can stimulate the joints which attach the jaw muscles by firm tapping or stroking. You can use puppets, washcloths, your hands of different types of fabric.

2.    Oral-motor activities like whistles and blow toys with flat mouthpieces will indirectly help to stabilise the jaw by strengthening the muscles. Get your child to blow these types of whistles / blow toys for 5 counts using sustained activation.


3.    Pretend you are a pussy cat: Get your child to hold a few straws horizontally in his/her mouth using his/her teeth to make cat’s whiskers. Hold the ‘whiskers’ in your mouth for 5 counts.

4.    Biting and chewing activities: play a game of tug-a-war with strong latex toys or elastic tubing. Fish tank tubing is very sturdy and available from pet shops. These tubes can also be used for straw drinking and bubble blowing activities.


5.    If your child is able to cope with solid foods, give your child crunchy and chewy foods to eat as snacks, e.g. dried fruit, liquorice stick, pretzels or granola bars.

6.    Typewriter Carriage (a TalkTools idea): Give your child a straw and have your child position their straw horizontally between their teeth (one end of the straw should be close to the left cheek and the other end should stick farther out on the right). Get your child to use their mouth to move the straw to the other side so the long end of the straw now protrudes from the left. If your child has difficulty with this task, get him/her to tilt his/her head laterally to one side and work on controlling the straw as it slides down. (Try not to drop the straw!)


7.    Feed food laterally (the side of the mouth) e.g. chipsticks, crisps, strips of carrot.

8.    Encourage your child to pick up straws off the table using his/her teeth.

9.    Place a liquorice stick in between your child’s back teeth. Encourage your child to bite down. Do one side at a time. (Your child should not be expected to eat the liquorice unless he/she wants to.)

10. Bite and hold liquorice on back teeth as above but this time you pull slightly on the liquorice stick to create resistance.

About Kim

My name is Kim Marino and I have been practicing as a licensed speech and language pathologist since 1993. I work on Long Island providing diagnostic evaluations and services to children from birth to age 21. My experience is vast and am proud to say that I work with children that may present with articulation and phonological concerns, oral motor feeding concerns, Down Syndrome feeding, cognitive rehabilitation, auditory processing delays, receptive language delays, cleft palate feeding and sound development and expressive language delays. Most importantly, I am the mother of four amazing children and am happily married to my childhood sweetheart. I feel blessed to have my four children and so lucky to share this journey in life with my husband. I always had it somewhere in my head that I wanted to develop a blog or a website of some sort so that I could provide families with an additional resource....so that parents could help their little ones become a better communicator. And as I was developing this blog....I realized that I also needed to share the stories about my life and my children....and the funny things along the way that help to keep me smiling. Whether you are a working mother or not...finding balance between home, children and life can be a challenge....I hope that my blog helps to bring a smile to your face..and also some tools to help you help your little or big one. I hope you enjoy! Kim
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2 Responses to Oral motor exercises to improve jaw stability in children with Down Syndrome

  1. Lili says:

    Hi, this is such a great blog. I have a 1 year old baby girl with down syndrome and cant get her to drink from a straw. Any suggestions?

    • Kim says:

      Hi Lili…yes I do…please start off with the honey bear straw cup. The link for this is to the right of my home page. follow the instructions on how to teach straw drinking with this cup. Once she is successful…you will transition to the first straw in the straw kit. You should be doing the pre-feeding exercises and also following the chewing hierarchy. Post with more questions i am happy to help. Best, Kim

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