Cleft Lip and Palate: The Underlying Challenges

A cleft lip and palate is a birth defect that occurs in every 1 or 2 of 1000 newborns in the U.S. It most commonly appears in infants of Asian, Latino or Native American descent. A cleft lip or palate, also called an orofacial cleft, is the result of the lip or palate not fully fusing together during the first 3 months of pregnancy. Clefts will appear in different degrees ranging from a slight split in the lip to the more severe cases, which extend to the nose. Although most cases of orofacial clefts can be partially corrected with surgery, a recent study suggests that cleft lip and palate may be correlated to behavioral issues, neuropsychosocial development and learning ability.

The study, which is published in the “Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal” in July 2012, examines the three challenges of cleft lip and palate during three stages of life: infancy/early development, school age and adolescence/early adulthood. The most obvious of the impact stems from environment impacts. A child with cleft lip and/or palate may experience self-esteem issues due to facial differences and speech impediments.

During the early development stages the child can be impacted by the stresses of surgery, orthodontic treatment, speech therapy and other treatment associated with an orofacial cleft. Research shows that there is an association with cleft lip and child behavior during the school age stage. Teachers and parents have reported challenges regarding social skills and self-control in addition to a high occurrence of reading and learning disabilities in children with cleft lip and/or palate. Problems with self-confidence persist through adolescence, however learning impairments decline.

An orofacial cleft can affect more than just physical appearance. It is important to understand the underlying challenges that effect behavior, neuropsychosocial development and learning ability resulting from cleft lip and palate. Being cognizant of these deficits will aid parents and teachers in helping children with this birth defect to develop social and neurological skills.