Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is an example of a speech disorder that hinders a child’s ability to communicate. This motor speech disorder makes it difficult for children to speak sounds and syllables, hindering them from forming words.
Everyday speech is a process that involves the brain and the body parts necessary for speech, such as lips, tongue, and jaw. The brain’s job is to coordinate the muscles in these body parts to produce the sounds necessary to make words.
If the brain cannot properly direct the speech muscles to do their job, your child may not be able to enjoy the normal speech. Speech apraxia generally has to do with muscle performance, not capability. A child’s speech muscles may be in perfect condition, but the brain’s inability to coordinate its movements properly causes problems with speaking.
As a parent, it can be very alarming to discover your child has a speech disorder of this nature. Learning more about language speech disorders can help alleviate confusion or fears concerning your child’s condition.
Who can treat many speech disorders with professional help and care? Children who manifest symptoms of speech problems should be tested as early as possible so as not to waste time getting the help they need.
Apraxia of speech in children may manifest itself in different ways. Some children may show a wide range of symptoms while others display just a few. In like manner, symptoms may be more profound in some children than in others.
Parents should have their children tested by a speech specialist to get an accurate diagnosis of this disorder. An evaluation by a qualified speech-language pathologist can save time and money in determining a child’s speech problems and getting the proper treatment.
When evaluating a child for CAS, your speech pathologist will conduct a series of tests to assess your child’s condition. A hearing test will determine if your child’s speech problems stem from hearing difficulties. Further tests are conducted to test your child’s oral motor skills, rhythm, and sound development.
As CAS involves difficulty coordinating speech body parts, your pathologist may ask your child to perform simple tasks such as frowning, smiling, puckering lips, licking a lollipop, etc., to evaluate jaw, tongue, and lip muscle coordination. Who may assess speech rhythm by having your child pronounce words and listening to how he stresses syllables.
Your pathologist will also determine how your child uses pitch in his speech and test his ability to pause in the right place when making long sentences. Speech sound abilities are assessed by having your child pronounce vowel and consonant sounds, sound combinations, syllables, and words in conversational speech.
By being aware of the various types of speech disorders, parents can look for possible symptoms in their children. The following are some of the most common signs to look for in apraxia of speech:
- Lack of babbling or cooing as a baby
- Late bloomer for speaking
- Signs of “groping” when trying to talk due to lack of coordination in lips, jaw, and tongue
- Capable of only speaking a few consonant or vowel sounds
- Difficulty in putting sounds together
- Delete sounds that are too difficult to make
- Make frequent yet inconsistent errors when sounding the same word
- Have difficulty with spontaneous speech
- Have problems saying multi-syllable words or long phrases
- Who cannot understand it quickly due to choppy speech or mispronounced words or syllables
- Have difficulty placing words in proper order or recalling words
- May be slow in developing other language skills such as vocabulary or grammar
- May experience difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling
There are various possible causes of CAS, although the cause may be difficult to determine in some cases. Brain injury resulting from infection, stroke, illness, or trauma could result in speech apraxia. The condition could also occur due to genetic disorders.
Doctors have discovered that irregularities in the FOXP2 gene, for example, increase the risk of individuals developing speech-language diseases. This gene is being studied to determine its involvement in how nerves in the brain and pathways develop. Studies reveal that CAS is more likely to develop in boys than girls. However, the symptoms in girls are generally more severe.
When referring to CAS, doctors often classify the condition as developmental apraxia of speech; however, it is not a condition that children merely outgrow with age. At present, the condition has no cure. However, after a comprehensive evaluation by a speech-language pathologist, children can reduce symptoms dramatically through speech therapy treatments, who can develop a treatment plan to coincide with a person’s needs. Some children only need 2-3 therapy sessions to improve their speaking skills; others may require intensive treatments of 3-5 sessions a week.
Individual sessions are often more productive in the beginning, as your child gets one-on-one attention from his speech therapist to focus on his individual needs. After sufficient progress has been made, parents can consider the advantages of having their child switch to group therapy.
Speech apraxia treatments can be slow and time-consuming compared to other speech disorders, and this requires that parents and children make solid commitments to their treatment plan.
Speech therapy sessions are designed to help improve coordination and sequencing of speech muscles by having patients perform specific exercises to reinforce good speech. In addition to organized therapy sessions, your child will need to continue practicing at home. Your therapist will assign particular exercises and strategies for home practice, enabling him to make faster progress.
Parents can be instrumental in helping their children progress by showing interest in their therapy and giving moral support. Speech apraxia can be highly frustrating for a child to handle alone. Children are natural communicators, and this condition can damper their enthusiasm and desire to learn to speak.
Childhood apraxia can make children feel isolated and cut off from the people they love. As a parent, your love and support are imperative to encouraging your child to make progress in honing his speaking skills.
As consistent repetition and practice is key to making progress, parents may need to develop fun and creative ways to maintain their child’s interest during therapy at home. Rather than a structured “class,” you could try incorporating practice times in the garden, during a bath, or while driving in the car. You can turn practice times into a game and offer prizes for effort and progress. Whatever you can do to help your child stay positive and encouraged about his therapy will help him advance his speaking abilities.
Apraxia of Speech in Adults
In contrast to childhood apraxia which children acquire at birth, adults may suffer from acquired apraxia of speech due to damage to their brain from an accidental head injury, stroke, tumor, etc. Acquired apraxia of speech symptoms is the same as CAS – impairment of everyday speech.
This makes it necessary for the adult to work with a speech language therapist to regain speaking skills. Speech therapy helps to retrain the adult’s speech muscles to produce words and sounds necessary for everyday speech. The adult’s ability to restore speaking skills will depend on the extent of the damage. However, through speech therapy, adults stand a greater chance of improving lost communication skills.
No two cases of apraxia of speech are precisely the same. For this reason, speech language pathologists recommend diverse approaches to treat this condition. Pathologists can help apraxia patients make greater progress in their ability to speak by tailoring treatments to meet their individual needs. In some cases, patients may need help overcoming other speech problems in addition to the apraxia, requiring their treatment to be more extensive and complex.
As there is no natural cure for apraxia, the overall goal is to improve speech abilities and skills. Pathologists can help their patients get the most from their time and monetary investment by personalizing therapy sessions.
People who suffer from severe apraxia may need to resort to alternative means of communication while they are in the process of developing their verbal communication skills. Sign language, writing, picture books, or electronic devices can provide viable means of alternative “speech.” As communication is an essential human need, apraxia patients should be encouraged to communicate however they can until they can understand themselves verbally.
Although developmental apraxia of speech is not as common as other speech disorders, parents should be aware that it exists and know what to do if their child begins to display symptoms of this condition when learning to speak.
The sooner parents can spot speech problems in their children, the sooner they can be tested and diagnosed for possible speech disorders that can hinder everyday speech. Early treatment of speech impediments will give children a head start in combating speech problems and enhancing their speaking skills.