Learning to speak and convey wants, needs, and thoughts to others is an important stage of childhood development. However, some children have trouble expressing themselves. Five percent of children ages 3-17 in the U.S. have experienced a speech disorder that lasted for a week or longer, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Childhood apraxia of speech is one disorder that can make it difficult for kids to communicate.
If your child has been diagnosed with apraxia of speech or if you think he or she might have it, here are a few helpful things to know about this condition.
1. It’s a matter of “I can’t” rather than “I won’t.” Apraxia is a motor speech disorder, meaning that children affected by it know what they want to say and have the desire to communicate. The issue is that their brains have trouble coordinating with the body (i.e., the jaw, tongue, and lips) to make the necessary movements, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
2. Apraxia of speech can’t be definitively diagnosed until a child is verbal. Typically, children who are younger than 3 years of age/not verbal yet can only receive a “suspected apraxia of speech” diagnosis. Children who are not yet verbal and/or are very young are more likely to get misdiagnosed.
3. Symptoms of apraxia of speech can overlap with those of other disorders like autism. Apraxia can sometimes get mistaken for another condition such as autism because they can have some of the same symptoms, such as difficulty making eye contact when trying to talk and sensory issues. However, children with apraxia of speech will show better receptive than expressive language skills, while those with autism spectrum disorder will show impairment in both areas. Additionally, kids experiencing apraxia will usually be able to express their needs effectively through non-verbal means.
Some of the other key characteristics of apraxia of speech include the following:
- Limited consonant and vowel sounds
- Strong desire to talk (e.g., the child might “grope” with his or her mouth because they’re trying so hard to speak)
- Trouble sequencing sounds and syllables
- Stressing the wrong syllable in a word or putting equal emphasis on all syllables
- Inconsistent speech patterns (e.g., making different errors when trying to say the same word multiple times)
4. The cause of apraxia of speech often isn’t clear. Childhood apraxia of speech has a range of possible causes, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can result from neurological conditions or injuries like traumatic brain injuries or infections. Genetic disorders, syndromes, or metabolic conditions like galactosemia (a disorder that affects the body’s ability to process the sugar galactose) can also cause apraxia of speech. However, it’s not uncommon for doctors to find nothing wrong with the brains of children who experience apraxia, and frequently they can’t pinpoint the cause.
5. Kids with apraxia of speech won’t necessarily grow out of it. To make optimal developmental progress, children with apraxia need speech therapy, the Mayo Clinic states. Techniques like motor learning therapy (e.g., repeating sounds and words so the brain learns the movement) can help children improve their speech and reach developmental milestones.
At Little Steps, our pediatric speech therapists treat children of all ages with various speech and language disorders. We provide the highest level of individualized speech therapy and work closely with children and their families to help them overcome communication issues that could affect them socially or academically as they get older. If you’d like to learn more about our pediatric speech therapy services, don’t hesitate to contact us by calling 847-707-6744 or emailing [email protected].