Intern Research Review

LaGasse, B. (2013). Influence of an external rhythm on oral motor control in children and adults. Journal of Music Therapy, 50(1), 6-23.

A large body of research supports the use of external rhythmic cueing to increase motor function, particularly within gait training programs with both children and adults. However, none have examined protocols for the development of oral motor skills.

Until this study by Dr. Blythe LaGasse.

This study sought to determine the feasibility of using a limb motor entrainment research procedure for oral motor entrainment and establish initial data on the effect of an external cue of oral motor stability in children and adults.

Participants included 12 children, ages ranging from 7-14 yrs and 12 adults ages 18-35 yrs. All participants were native English language speakers and had no history of speech, language or hearing impairments.

A rigid reference array consisting of three markers was placed on participant’s foreheads to assist in data collection. Participants were asked to complete three conditions, one with no external rhythmic cues and two with external rhythmic cues. Each condition included 7 trials of 8 sequential syllabic repetitions. The study began by participants repeating the syllable “pa” at a comfortable, self-selected pace with no external cues. From that initial pace, a participant “preferred tempo” was calculated. The next condition, participants were instructed to produce the syllable “on the beat” with an external auditory stimulus. A metronome set to the tempo established in the “no external rhythm” condition produced the external cue. The final condition included an external rhythmic cue 10% faster in tempo than that of the 2nd condition.

Results indicated that there are different degrees of motor stability within the oral motor musculature. This data supports each particular structure of the mouth (the lips, tongue, jaw, and cheek) impacts on overall oral motor control. Moreover data indicated a significant different in oral motor control with entrainment conditions. Consequently results of this study suggest that protocols used for limb motor synchronization may also be utilized for oral motor development. Additionally age played no significance in data collection or results yielded.

On the surface level the implications of this study suggest that music therapists should design oral motor interventions to have a clear rhythmic structure. These interventions should create ample opportunities for patients to entrain oral motor movement. The more music therapists can facilitate greater efficiency of the oral mechanism through rhythm the easier it will become for our patients to transfer these skills in situations where no external rhythmic cue is provided.

As music therapy grows as a profession it is important that the settings with which it is utilized also expands. The implications of this study open up the opportunity for collaboration across many settings, particularly between music and speech acquisition and rehabilitation. These settings could include public schools, English language learning, stroke rehabilitation, and private practice.

Over the last decade there has been an increased demand for brain-based learning and treatment strategies in the field of education as well as other allied health professions. This study has the potential to be the catalysts for creating evidence-based interventions in the field of communication that demonstrate the brain’s ability, regardless of cognition, to sync motor movement to music stimuli to achieve designated outcomes. The potential implications of this study are vast however, there is a definite need for more research and more clearly defined protocols for oral motor development.

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