What is a tracheostomy and why would my child need one?

A tracheostomy is when there is a breathing tube surgically placed in a small opening in the neck area to help a person breathe. There are many reasons a tracheostomy is performed, but the outcome is always to help the person get the oxygen that they need. Sometimes ventilation is needed if the person’s lungs can’t function on their own.

What does a speech therapist do to help my child with a tracheostomy?

A speech therapist is added when the child shows they are ready to start speaking or shows they have trouble swallowing; they make sure that the child and their family have an understanding of the breath support needed for speech and swallowing as well. We achieve this through the use of things like speaking valves and eventually capping (sealing of the tracheostomy completely so that the child is breathing completely on their own). It is important to remember that it is very difficult for an individual to make any kind of sound when they have an open tracheostomy since the air comes out of the tube, rather than through the voice box (larynx) to make speech sounds.

What is a speaking valve?

A speaking valve is a small attachment placed at the opening of the tracheostomy tube that gives some resistance to breathing and allows air to travel through the larynx to make speech happen. Some speaking valves let oxygen both in and out through the tracheostomy, and others let the oxygen come in at the tracheostomy while the air that gets exhaled goes through the nose and mouth.

What are the benefits to using a speaking valve?

The biggest benefit is getting the person that much closer to breathing on their own without needing a tracheostomy anymore. It also helps with other daily activities such as bearing weight (think physical therapy activities), increases tastes of food (think diet variety and expansion for both nutrition and occupational therapy needs), and increases the safety of swallowing; not to mention they are able to talk using their own voice!


Jacquelyn McCluskey M.S. CCC-SLP Speech-Language Pathologist for 9 years Areas of experience:

  • Early Intervention
  • Pediatric Outpatient
  • Special Education School Setting
  • Regular Education Classroom Setting
Areas of interest:

  • Feeding/Swallowing
  • Medically Fragile
  • Stuttering