What is it?
Apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder caused by a disruption between the planning of muscle coordination in brain and the body parts needed for speech (e.g., lips, tongue, jaw). It is not due to muscle weakness or paralysis. A child with apraxia of speech knows what he wants to say, but their brain has difficulty coordinating the oral movements needed to produce and combine sounds to form syllables and words.
What does it looks like?
Childhood apraxia of speech can look different in each child. Not every child show all of the signs and symptoms of apraxia. The following is a list of potential indicators that your child may have apraxia of speech:
- Little to no cooing or babbling as an infant
- Limited imitation of syllables and/or words
- First words occurring after 18 months of age
- A two-year old who:
o is non-verbal
o uses non-speech sounds without any word approximations
o uses gestures, rather than words, to communicate
o becomes frustrated around communication
- A child who is able to produce single words clearly, though becomes unintelligible in phrases or sentences
- A child who deletes sounds from words after age three
- A child who has previously said a word clearly, though cannot imitate it when asked
- Family members often have to interpret for the child
How is it diagnosed?
An audiologist should complete a comprehensive hearing evaluation to rule out any potential hearing loss.
A certified speech-language pathologist will complete a comprehensive speech-language evaluation. This will assess your child’s oral-motor abilities, speech sound development, and language development.
Childhood apraxia of speech is a differential diagnosis, or a diagnosis that is made by examining all the possible causes for a set of symptoms in order to arrive at a conclusion. Due to this, an official diagnosis of apraxia may not be made right away. It is important to rule out other potential causes for your child’s speech difficulties before coming the apraxia diagnosis, such as phonological disorders. However, it should be noted that with or without a diagnosis your child will still receive effective therapy to improve their overall communication skills.
What treatments are available?
Research has shown that frequent (3-5 times per week) and intensive speech-language therapy yields more successful results. Furthermore, individual therapy is more successful than group therapy for children with apraxia. Improvement in the planning, sequencing, and coordination of oral muscle movements is the main focus in intervention. Visual and tactile cues, such as tapping on the arm or looking in the mirror, provide multi-sensory feedback which helps to improve the child’s coordination and production. The most important piece in therapy for apraxia is practice; both in therapy and at home. The treatment of apraxia takes time, patience, and commitment. A supportive environment is crucial so your child can feel successful in their communicative interactions.