Childhood Apraxia of Speech
Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder that can make a child highly unintelligible to others. ‘Intelligibility’ is how much of a child’s speech another person is able to understand. When a child has CAS, their brain cannot send messages to tell their muscles and articulators (i.e. tongue, teeth, lips, etc.) how to move correctly. Apraxia is different from other speech sound disorders. The characteristics that are specific to apraxia are:
Inconsistent speech productions (e.g. a child may say the same word different ways)
Vowel errors in addition to consonant errors (e.g. ‘whine’ vs. ‘rain’)
Groping of articulators (e.g. child’s lips, tongue, teeth work effortfully to make correct sounds without success)
Inconsistent speech production and vowel errors make a child with CAS more unintelligible than a child with predictable speech errors. A speech language pathologist will address and target these issues to improve the clarity of your child’s speech using gestural “touch” cues, and visuals among others. To help a child communicate in the meantime, a speech therapist may use and recommend “multimodal” communication. This might include using some sign language or an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device.
Many parents are hesitant at first to incorporate sign language or an AAC device. However, these means of communication are NOT meant to replace verbal speech. Using multimodal communication temporarily can decrease frustration that many children with apraxia face when they are not understood. It will also decrease the amount of effort and time it takes for a child to effectively communicate their thoughts with others.
As it applies for most speech sound disorders, it is very beneficial for a child with apraxia to practice their speech homework in frequent, short spurts. For example, practicing a list of 5 words for 3-5 minutes throughout the day (e.g. at meal times, after brushing teeth, in the car, etc.) will improve a child’s motor planning and ability to produce words. Talk to your speech therapist about ways to carry over therapy and support your child’s communication at home.