The importance of speech and language support for Craniosynostosis patients

As a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, I know the valuable role speech and language therapy plays in the craniofacial surgery service at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

Studies have shown that problems with speech and language development are common in kids with craniofacial conditions. One of the most common conditions we treat in our Craniofacial Unit is “craniosynostosis”. This is where the bones of the skull have fused early. This can affect the shape of the skull as it grows and may put pressure on the brain and affect development. Children who have craniosynostosis undergo surgery at a young age in order to improve the shape of the skull and to give the brain room to grow.

In some children, their craniosynostosis is part of a “syndrome”, meaning that there are other problems not just related to the skull bones. These problems might include fused fingers, abnormal jaw growth or problems with hearing. In most of the children we treat with craniosynostosis, their only issue is the fused skull bones – so we describe these patients as having “non-syndromic craniosynostosis”.

A recent study out of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh looked at speech and language problems in patients with non-syndromic craniosynostosis. They found that over half of the children with non-syndromic craniosynostosis had abnormalities speech and language development and that around one third needed to see a speech and language therapist. The cause of these speech and language delays isn’t known. It’s possible there are differences in the way sounds are processed in children with craniosynostosis. What we do know is that early intervention with speech and language therapy can make a big difference to a child’s development later on.

The Craniofacial Unit at the Children’s Hospital Westmead is a busy craniofacial surgery centre servicing Sydney and greater NSW. We have a number of specialists involved with our clinic including expert speech and language therapists. Our goal is to identify and treat any issues with speech and language development as soon as they become apparent.

Damian Marucci
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, The Children's Hospital at Westmead