Aim: to report the prevalence, clinical associations, and trends over time of oromotor dysfunction and communication impairments in children with cerebral palsy (CP).
Method: multiple sources of ascertainment were used and children followed up with a standardized assessment including motor speech problems, swallowing/chewing difficulties, excessive drooling, and communication impairments at age 5 years.
Results: a total of 1357 children born between 1980 and 2001 were studied (781 males, 576 females; median age 5y 11mo, interquartile range 3-9y; unilateral spastic CP, n=447; bilateral spastic CP, n=496; other, n=112; Gross Motor Function Classification System [GMFCS] level: I, 181; II, 563; III, 123; IV, 82; IV, 276). Of those with 'early-onset' CP (n=1268), 36% had motor speech problems, 21% had swallowing/chewing difficulties, 22% had excessive drooling, and 42% had communication impairments (excluding articulation defects). All impairments were significantly related to poorer gross motor function and intellectual impairment. In addition, motor speech problems were related to clinical subtype; swallowing/chewing problems and communication impairments to early mortality; and communication impairments to the presence of seizures. Of those with CP in GMFCS levels IV to V, a significant proportion showed a decline in the rate of motor speech impairment (p=0.008) and excessive drooling (p=0.009) over time.
Interpretation: these impairments are common in children with CP and are associated with poorer gross motor function and intellectual impairment.