Verbal speech is one of the most important means of communication for your children as it enables them to express their thoughts and feelings on any given subject. As your children grow, they will become more adept in communicating their needs. By the time your child is 4 years old, he or she should be speaking clearly enough to be understood. But what if you child starts with Slurred Speech?
If your child is having difficulties speaking by the age of 4, he or she may be suffering from a speech impediment. Having your child tested by a language specialist makes it easier to identify the problem. The sooner a speech and/or hearing difficulty is diagnosed, the sooner your child can start treatment to improve his or her communications skills. Early treatment can often help correct or improve many speech problems.
What is slurred speech? Slurred speech, aka dysarthria, is a speech impediment characterized by mumbling, poor pronunciation and lack of control in speed and/or rhythm when a person talks. Slurring speech can hinder your children from communicating properly, as it makes it difficult for them to be understood.
If your child shows signs of drooling along with slurring speech, he or she could be suffering from a serious illness or medical condition. Early diagnosis is key to finding the root of this problem and determining treatment.
Children who have dysarthria do not have full control over the facial muscles used to produce proper speech. Poor muscle control causes difficulty in pronouncing words, forming sentences, regulating the speed and rhythm of your speech as well as controlling your volume. In some cases, children have a hard time speaking above a whisper.
What causes slurred speech? Children can develop this condition as a result of:
- Childhood stroke
- Brain injury
- Medical conditions or birth defects that produce muscle disorders
- Problems with mouth, jaw or tongue
In order to develop proper speech, a child’s brain, mouth, larynx and tongue need to function normally. Any damage in these areas will have an adverse effect on a child’s ability to speak. Brain injuries, strokes, injury to mouth, jaw or tongue and muscular disorders are common causes of slurred speech as they impede proper speech development. Medical conditions such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and myasthenia gravis which weaken muscle control are also possible slurred speech causes.
Dysarthria symptoms may vary from person to person. In some cases, this condition may develop gradually over a period of time. In other cases, it may occur suddenly, as a result of facial paralysis due to stroke or brain injury from an accident. The effects of slurring speech can be transitory or long-lasting, depending on the cause of your child’s dysarthric condition.
Unless you have ample experience in speech impediments, it’s best to have your child evaluated and diagnosed by a speech-language specialist to confirm his or her slurred speech condition. A language specialist can also assess the severity of your child’s problem.
Although there are various signs to look for out, children may differ in the symptoms they portray due to having a light or severe case of the problem.
In general, however, dysarthria can be distinguished by:
- Slurred words and sentences
- Excessive slow or rapid speaking patterns
- Low or uneven volume, sometimes limited to a whisper
- Strained voice
- Monotone speech
- Noticeable difficulty in controlling facial muscles and tongue
Children with slurring speech have a very difficult time talking in a way others can understand. This can limit their ability to communicate with family and friends. Your child’s communication problems may cause him or her to feel angry and frustrated.
Tweens and teens may feel inferior due to their condition. As a result, they may refrain from making friends or taking part in social functions. Your child or teen with dysarthria will need a lot of encouragement and understanding to overcome his or her speech disability.
Speech therapy may help to improve your child’s verbal speech skills to some degree. However, your entire family should be prepared to learn other forms of communication in the event speech therapy doesn’t work out as planned. Having alternative means of communicating will ensure your child doesn’t feel isolated or left out.
Dysarthria can make life more challenging for your child, but it doesn’t need to hinder him or her from reaching his or her full potential. Your positive approach to handling this problem can make a big difference in how your child responds and copes to this challenge in life.
In addition to brain injuries, stroke and muscle disorders, slurred speech can also occur as a result of anxiety. People who live in fear of developing brain or nervous system problems may experience the symptoms of dysarthria due to their anxiety.
Anxiety attacks can cause a number of health problems to include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, nausea, nervousness, numbness, etc. As the old adage goes, “Fear a fear and it will come upon you.” Even if nothing is physically wrong with your brain or nervous system, the anxiety you feel can produce symptoms of various illnesses and condition, to include dysarthria.
Treatment Options for Dysarthria
Initial treatment of dysarthria begins with trying to treat the cause. If this is not possible, speech therapy offers an alternative to improving your child’s ability to speak. Your therapist will help develop a program geared to meeting your child’s specific speech needs, taking into consideration the cause, symptoms and length of time your child has had this problem.
As you may be quite involved in your child’s therapy, you should discuss all options with your therapist and learn whatever techniques are necessary to help your child make progress. Your therapist will also set goals for improvement, focusing on:
- Strengthening muscle control
- Enhancing mouth movements
- Improving breathing to increase volume
- Regulating rate of speech
- Improving pronunciation
- Developing strategies to help family members and caregivers communicate more effectively with the child who has the condition
Speech therapy is a practical means of helping children with speech problems to improve their quality of speech. However, it is not necessarily a cure-all for every speech problem. The treatment can be tedious and time-consuming and involves teachers and other members of the family. In addition to formal sessions with a therapist, your child will need to practice his or her lessons with you at home.
This means you will need to factor speech therapy practice into your busy schedule. Rather than see this as a disruption, you can take advantage of this time to bond with your child and strengthen your personal relationship. Over time, you will appreciate having established these close ties.
Many parents have turned their children’s disabilities into a blessing for the entire family. Siblings who have to adjust to their brother or sister’s speech problems will learn lessons on empathy and compassion. In the course of his or her treatment, your child has the opportunity to grow in such important qualities as diligence, determination and perseverance – traits that can contribute to his or her success later in life.
Speech therapy alone may not completely resolve your child’s communication problems. For this reason, many therapists teach their patients alternative means of communication such as gestures, the use of electronic equipment or sign language so they can effectively communicate with other members of the family.
During the course of therapy, your therapist will evaluate your child’s progress from time to time, altering expectations and goals as necessary. These evaluations will give you a better idea of your child’s progress.
It’s important for parents to understand that the goal of speech therapy is not 100% restoration of a child’s ability to speak. It is a means of helping to improve your child’s communications skills so that he or she can enjoy a higher quality of life.