Is there a correlation between fine motor delay and speech delay?

By Stephanie Sigal, M.A. CCC-SLP

NYC Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist

In my speech therapy practice, I often find that children with articulation delay or disorders often have difficulty with fine motor skills.

Speech is the finest, fine motor skill we have.  Think about the intricacies required for saying the multisyllabic word “buttercup”.  To say this word, your lips come together for /b/.  Next, the tip of your tongue touches the area just behind your top front teeth for /t/.  Then, the back of your tongue spreads out for /r/, and immediately moves upwards for /k/.  Finally, your lips come back together for /p/.  The muscles of the mouth (jaw, lips and tongue) have to perform very specific movements so a word is produced with appropriate speech clarity.  Using words in sentences and conversation requires rapid and precise muscle movements.

The jaw, lips and tongue work most optimally when they have a strong and stable trunk to support them.  A child should sit upright with his or her feet supported, and the ankles, knees, hips and chin at right angles for optimal respiration, phonation, resonation and articulation.  When a child sits on the floor in a “W” shaped position, the knees are bent with one foot on each side of the child’s tushy, not allowing for an upright posture.  Children should be encouraged to sit on the floor with their legs straight out in front of them or in a criss-cross / Tailor-sit position.

Many children make predictable developmental sound substitutions as they are learning to talk.  Articulation errors may involve substituting one sound for another (“tar” for car), omitting a sound in a word (“boo” for blue), or distorting a sound.  Guidelines as to when individual speech sounds should appear can be found here.

A speech therapist can be helpful in improving your child’s speech clarity.  It is important for the therapist to understand why your child is having difficulty saying speech sounds.  For example, is the jaw unstable?  Does he or she not achieve adequate lip closure?  Does the tongue have a poor range of motion?  When oral motor therapy is used in conjunction with traditional articulation techniques (practicing individual speech sounds), excellent results are often achieved.

Thumbsucking, pacifier use, bottles and sippy cups should be avoided past age one for appropriate speech clarity, as long as nutrition is not compromised.  The non-dissociated movement that occurs while suckling does not allow for the muscles of the jaw, lips and tongue to work independently.  Suckling may lead to tongue thrusting.

The jaw, lips and tongue have precise fine motor jobs.  Encouraging good speech habits can help the muscles of your child’s mouth work more efficiently.

Stephanie Sigal M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech therapist practicing in children’s homes on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  Stephanie specializes in improving children’s articulation and language skills.  She additionally prepares NYC children for kindergarten.  To learn more about Stephanie and her speech therapy practice, please visit her website or you may contact her at or 646-295-4473.


What are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine motor skills involve dexterity of the small muscles in the hands and fingers for concise and coordinated movements. Occupational therapists (OTS) help children develop and strengthen their fine motor skills. OTs are trained in selecting the right challenge fine motor activities based on a child’s specific needs.

Examples of tasks requiring fine motor skills include:

  • Stringing beads
  • Building with small blocks
  • Connecting legos
  • Turning a key inside a lock
  • Tying shoelaces
  • Fastening buttons and snaps
  • Screwing/unscrewing a nut and bolt
  • Drawing, painting, coloring
  • Writing tasks
  • Assembling puzzles
  • Zipping and unzipping
  • Using scissors
  • Arts and crafts activities
  • Rolling playdoh into small balls
  • Peeling stickers
  • Picking up objects using small tweezers