About verbal dyspraxia in children
Developmental verbal dyspraxia (also known as Childhood Apraxia of Speech) is one of three types of developmental dyspraxia. It is a neurological disorder affecting the production of speech. It is characterised by difficulty planning and executing the muscle movements required to produce speech. In other words, a child with verbal dyspraxia knows what they want to say, but has difficulty coordinating the oral movements to get the word out. It is not a muscle weakness disorder.
Common characteristics of verbal dyspraxia include:
- Unintelligible speech (listeners have difficulty understanding what the child says).
- Difficulty making sounds and repeating sound or word sequences, e.g. “pa ta ka”.
- Speech errors are often inconsistent (may try to say a word but the word sounds different each time).
- Tendency to simplify words – particularly long words, e.g. Caterpillar may become ‘pillar’.
- May have difficulty producing a regular tone, prosody or rhythm in their speech.
- May be slower in their speech and have difficulty ‘starting’ their word or sentence.
- Visibly have difficulty putting their tongue, lips, jaw etc in the ‘right place’ for speech. This behaviour is called ‘groping’.
- May have delayed receptive and expressive language skills (Receptive language may generally appear to be stronger).
- May (though not necessarily) co-occur with other developmental dyspraxia’s including oral and motor dyspraxia (motor dyspraxia can be assessed by an Occupational Therapist)
Cause of childhood verbal dyspraxia include:
Dyspraxia can occur in the absence of any structural change or injury. It can occur developmentally (present from birth) with no obvious cause. There is no known cause for developmental verbal dyspraxia, however research does indicate that there is a breakdown or immaturity in the neurological connections required for speech. Dyspraxia can also be acquired via brain damage. Damage may be secondary to trauma, accident, stroke or illness.
Important facts to remember:
- Dyspraxia itself does not lead to an impact on intelligence.
- It can be extremely frustrating for a child. Imagine knowing what you want to say, but often or always having difficulty ‘getting it out’.
- Difficulty speaking or not speaking at all should not be mistaken for laziness. Children are often putting in a lot of effort, even if there is little result.
- Therapy programs often initially incorporate an element of ‘alternative’ communication. There is no evidence to suggest that this defers verbal speech. It can promote expressive language and provides a child with a means of expressing their needs/wants. Frustrations can be reduced when a child can communicate what they would like.
What to do?
Children with developmental verbal dyspraxia usually require structured therapy with specific techniques to improve speech production. Therapy for dyspraxia can be intensive and occur over an extended time period. A speech pathology assessment and observations can determine the nature of a child’s speech or language difficulty and determine an appropriate therapy plan. Therapy approaches may vary depending on the nature and severity of the dyspraxia.
Clinical research and anecdotal evidence indicate that most children with verbal dyspraxia can achieve intelligible speech with the appropriate therapy and support. It should be recognised however that some children, despite intensive therapy, may not achieve intelligible speech as their primary form of communication. If this is the case, children may require alternative or augmented methods of communication.
If you have questions or concerns about childhood verbal dyspraxia make an appointment to see one of our speech pathologists. Contact us today!
For more information about dyspraxia see Jenna’s article – Click here.