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Cleft Lip and Palate

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) play a central role in the screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of speech and language problems, as well as feeding and swallowing problems, associated with cleft lip and palate. The professional roles and activities in speech-language pathology include clinical/educational services (diagnosis, assessment, planning, and treatment); prevention and advocacy; and education, administration, and research. See ASHA's Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology (ASHA, 2016b).

A team approach to service delivery is essential throughout the individual's care, and SLPs typically provide services as part of, or in collaboration with, a team. See Standards for Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Teams from the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association (ACPA, 2016) for essential characteristics of quality for team composition and functioning. See also ASHA's web page, Interprofessional Education/Interprofessional Practice (IPE/IPP).

Appropriate roles for SLPs include, but are not limited to,

  • counseling persons with cleft lip and palate and their families regarding communication- and feeding/swallowing-related issues and providing education aimed at preventing further complications relating to these conditions;
  • educating other professionals about the needs of persons with cleft lip and palate and the role of SLPs in diagnosis and management;
  • screening individuals who present with cleft lip and palate; determining the need for further assessment and/or referral for other services;
  • conducting a comprehensive, culturally and linguistically appropriate assessment of speech, language, resonance, voice, or feeding problem associated with cleft lip and palate;
  • diagnosing speech, language, resonance, voice, or feeding disorders associated with cleft lip and palate;
  • referring to other professionals to rule out co-occurring conditions, determine etiology, and facilitate access to comprehensive services;
  • making decisions about the management of speech, language, resonance, voice, and feeding/swallowing problems related to cleft lip and palate;
  • developing treatment plans, providing treatment, documenting progress, and determining appropriate dismissal criteria;
  • consulting and collaborating with other professionals, family members, caregivers, and others to facilitate program development and to provide supervision, evaluation, and/or expert testimony, as appropriate;
  • remaining informed of research in the area of cleft lip and palate and helping advance the knowledge base related to the nature and treatment of these conditions;
  • advocating for individuals with cleft lip and palate and their families at the local, state, and national levels;
  • serving as an integral member of an interdisciplinary team working with individuals who have cleft lip and palate and their families/caregivers; and
  • providing quality control and risk management.

As indicated in the Code of Ethics (ASHA, 2016a), SLPs who serve this population should be specifically educated and appropriately trained to do so. This is of paramount importance for those serving on a cleft palate-craniofacial team, where decisions regarding surgical intervention require significant SLP input.

Content Disclaimer: The Practice Portal, ASHA policy documents, and guidelines contain information for use in all settings; however, members must consider all applicable local, state and federal requirements when applying the information in their specific work setting.