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Speech outcome following palatoplasty in primary school children: do lay peer observers agree with speech pathologists?

  • Witt, P D
  • Berry, L A
  • Marsh, J L
  • Grames, L M
  • Pilgram, T K
Published Article
Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery
Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer) - Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Publication Date
Nov 01, 1996
PMID: 8911465


The aim of this study was twofold: (1) to test the ability of normal children to discriminate the speech of children with repaired cleft palate from the speech of unaffected peers and (2) to compare these naive assessments of speech acceptability with the sophisticated assessments of speech pathologists. The study group (subjects) was composed of 21 children of school age (aged 8 to 12 years) who had undergone palatoplasty at a single cleft center and 16 matched controls. The listening team (student raters) was composed of 20 children who were matched to the subjects for age, sex, and other variables. Randomized master audio-tape recordings of the children who had undergone palatoplasty were presented in blinded fashion and random order to student raters who were inexperienced in the evaluation of patients with speech dysfunction. The same sound recordings were evaluated by an experienced panel of extramural speech pathologists whose intrarater and interrater reliabilities were known; they were not direct care providers. Additionally, the master tape was presented in blinded fashion and random order to the velopharyngeal staff at the cleft center for intramural assessment. Comparison of these assessment methodologies forms the basis of this report. Naive raters were insensitive to speech differences in the control and cleft palate groups. Differences in the mean scores for the groups never approached statistical significance, and there was adequate power to discern a difference of 0.75 on a 7-point scale. Expert raters were sensitive to differences in resonance and intelligibility in the control and cleft palate groups but not to other aspects of speech. The expert raters recommended further evaluation of cleft palate patients more often than control patients. Speech pathologists discern differences that the laity does not. Consideration should be given to the utilization of untrained listeners to add real-life significance to clinical speech assessments. Peer group evaluations of speech acceptability may define the morbidity of cleft palate speech in terms that are most relevant to the patients themselves and may safeguard against the possibility of offering treatment that may be unnecessary.

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