The social stigma of cleft lips and cleft palates often surfaces in the psychological effects that these craniofacial disorders have on the affected patients over their lifetimes. Psychological problems stemming from a craniofacial anomaly can go unidentified by a surgical team, and even parents, due to the often main focus of improving physical limitations and appearance. However, identifying and addressing any emotional challenges the patient is feeling is critical in maximizing a surgery’s positive outcome, as well as transitioning smoothly and successfully to rehabilitation.
Psychosocial Concerns and Social Stigma of Cleft Lips and Cleft Palates
Research shows that self-image is affected by what is commonly perceived as physical attractiveness. Facial symmetry is considered a main determinant of such attractiveness.
Aesthetics of the facial structure are often socially (as well as subconsciously) used to measure:
- Social standing
- Popularity/desirability as a friend or partner
- Social skills
For patients with a congenital facial impairment, such as cleft lip and cleft palate, these perceptions can negatively affect self-esteem. Research also shows that children with cleft lip and/or palate report more incidences of teasing and unhappiness with their facial appearances. No differentiation is made between actual and perceived negative responses toward these craniofacial patients. Individuals with cleft lips or palates often experience difficulty feeling socially accepted (even with no negative outside response) because of the societal connection between physical beauty and acceptability.
Because cleft lip/palate patients often have speech difficulties in conjunction with their conditions, children may experience anxiety in social situations in which they are asked to speak publicly, such as reading aloud in school. Discomfort with speech quality can lead to lower confidence levels or self-consciousness.
Self-esteem issues can lead to:
- Social discomfort
- Behavioral issues
According to an article in the Journal of Indian Association of Pediatric Surgeons (JIAPS), “Research shows that a high percentage of cleft children are underachievers along with the evidence of behavioral inhibition, concern regarding appearance, and decreased expectations by teachers and parents.” Many of the challenges faced by cleft lip/palate patients actually stem not from the physiological limitations present, but rather from psychological problems that can influence a child’s entire development.
Improving Psychological Challenges of Cleft Lip and Palate Patients
Psychological challenges of cleft lip and cleft palate patients can be greatly influenced by parental perception. Patients whose parents show a high degree of acceptance and support tend to display less psychosocial difficulties. Parents who are aware of possible problems can employ coping strategies that can help with self-esteem concerns.
Timely interventions (surgical procedures) have shown to be significantly impactful in the management of psychological issues associated with cleft lip/palate. In addition to improved appearance and orofacial functionality achieved through craniofacial surgery, patients report psychosocial benefits, as well.
Additional benefits achieved through cleft lip/palate surgery can include:
- Increased self-esteem
- Higher self-confidence
- Satisfaction with facial appearance
While many studies on cleft lip and cleft palate patients have been conducted with varying results, the likelihood of a craniofacial patient experiencing psychological effects due to his/her facial anomaly does exist. Our team recognizes the importance of building positive self skills after surgery. Development of these skills help patients achieve:
- Social interaction skills
- Social competence
- Ability to adjust
The Craniofacial Team of Texas is committed to meeting all of our patients’ needs through a multidisciplinary approach which addresses all facets of the condition we are treating and the health of each patient physically and emotionally.
If you would like more information about this craniofacial anomaly, please contact the Craniofacial Team of Texas by calling 512-377-1142 or toll free 877-612-7069 to schedule an appointment or complete an online appointment request.