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 which hinders them from forming words to speak.
Normal speech is a process that involves the brain and those 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 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 their movements properly causes problems with speaking.
As a parent, it can be very alarming to discover your child suffers from a speech disorder of this nature. Learning more about language speech disorders can help alleviate any confusion or fears concerning your child’s condition. Many speech disorders can be treated 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 in 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 manifest just a few. In like manner, symptoms may be more profound in some children than in others. In order to get an accurate diagnosis of this disorder, parents should have their children tested by a speech specialist. 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 in 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. Speech rhythm may be assessed by having your child pronounce words and listening to how he stresses syllables. Your pathologist will also assess 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 be on the lookout for possible symptoms in their children. The following are some of the most common symptoms 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 speak due to lack of coordination in lips, jaw and tongue
- Capable of only speaking 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
- Cannot be understood easily 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 in some cases, the cause may be difficult to determine. Brain injury as a result of 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 disorders. 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, children can reduce symptoms dramatically through speech therapy treatments. After a comprehensive evaluation by a speech language pathologist, a treatment plan can be developed to coincide with a person’s needs. Some children may only need 2-3 therapy sessions a week 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. 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 specific exercises and strategies for home practice which will enable 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 extremely frustrating for a child to handle alone. Children are natural communicators and this condition can put a damper on 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 is 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 come up with 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 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 in 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 as a result of damage to their brain from an accidental head injury, stroke, tumor, etc. The symptoms of acquired apraxia of speech are the same as CAS – impairment of normal 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 normal speech. The adult’s ability to regain 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 exactly the same. For this reason, speech language pathologists recommend diverse approaches to treatment of this condition. By tailoring treatments to meet a person’s individual need, pathologists can help apraxia patients make greater progress in their ability to speak. In some cases, patients may need help in overcoming other speech problems in addition to the apraxia, requiring that their treatment be more extensive and complex. As there is no real cure for apraxia, the overall goal is to improve speech abilities and skills. By personalizing therapy sessions, pathologists can help their patients get the most from their time and monetary investment.
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 are capable of making themselves understood 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 their children can be tested and diagnosed for possible speech disorders that can hinder normal speech. Early treatment of speech impediments will give children a head start in combating speech problems and enhancing their speaking skills.