One of the more controversial diagnoses a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can make in young children is childhood apraxia of speech. This is largely due to how significant the impact can be. But this diagnosis can mean many different things. The term “apraxia” comes from the word praxis meaning “movement.” An “a-praxia” suggests a lack of coordinated movement. This lack of coordinated movement can be mild, moderate or severe. A child with apraxia of speech:
• May not coo or babble as an infant
• Uses only a few different consonant and vowel sounds
• Has problems combining sounds; may show long pauses between sounds
• Makes inconsistent sound errors that are not the result of immaturity
• Can understand language much better than he or she can talk
• Has difficulty imitating speech, but imitated speech is more clear than spontaneous speech
• May appear to be groping when attempting to produce sounds or to coordinate the lips, tongue and jaw for purposeful movement
• Has more difficulty saying longer words or phrases clearly than shorter ones
It is often difficult for a child with apraxia of speech to communicate their wants and needs using words. These children typically have normal, if not strong overall communication skills and can compensate well. For example, when a child is unable to sequence the sounds in “big,” he could gesture using his hands while attempting a vocal approximation of “big.”
A quick look at treatment: Childhood Apraxia of Speech involves difficulty coordinating the muscles used for speech; it is not a muscle weakness. Use of strength-building exercises will not improve the coordination difficulties observed in these children. Speech therapy for apraxia focuses on improving coordination for specific sounds, syllables, and words. Basically, the goal is to “over-learn” which muscles need to be activated and in what order to produce words. If you have concerns about your child’s speech sound development, do not hesitate to schedule an evaluation with a Speech-Language Pathologist.
To find a Speech-Language Pathologist near you visit BPHT’s staff profile page at www.bpandht.com/about-us/our-staff/ or The American Speech and Hearing Association at www.asha.org.