Does your child often pronounce the same word differently? For instance, she might sometimes say “cat” correctly, but then mispronounce it at other times by saying “tat” or “pat”.
While these simple mistakes may seem harmless, they can be an indicator of an underlying speech disorder that can negatively impact your child’s speech development.
In this guide, we will discuss one of the most common speech disorders: childhood apraxia of speech. We will explain everything you need to know about this disorder — including what it is, how it’s diagnosed, and the best plan for treatment.
Childhood Apraxia of Speech
Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a rare speech disorder that renders children unable to make accurate speech movements as they speak.
Unlike most speech disorders, the problem isn’t caused by the speech muscles. Instead, the problem occurs due to the brain’s inability to coordinate speech movements smoothly.
Causes of Apraxia of Speech
It’s hard to determine the underlying cause because CAS has many possible causes.
In some cases, it is caused by damage to the brain. In others, neurological conditions or injuries such as strokes and infections are the culprits.
Unfortunately, even a professional diagnosis may fail to determine the cause of this disorder. However, your child’s speech can be improved tremendously with the help of a speech professional.
Signs of Apraxia of Speech
Children with CAS usually show the following signs:
- Don’t babble enough and create variations within babbling.
- Make inconsistent pronunciation errors.
- Have trouble saying words with longer or more complex syllables.
- Omit entire syllables.
- Find vowels harder to pronounce than consonants.
- Stress certain sounds excessively or even unnecessarily.
- Pronounce the same word differently across multiple attempts.
If your child is showing any of these signs, you should consult a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to confirm whether your child has apraxia of speech.
How Can an SLP Help?
Here’s what you can expect in your first meeting with a speech-language pathologist:
The SLP will start by evaluating your child’s condition. He will review your child’s symptoms, including how she pronounces words, sounds, and phrases, and then check her medical history.
Following that, he will assess your child’s language skills, including her vocabulary range, sentence structure, and her ability to understand speech.
The SLP will then conduct a few evaluation tests, which vary depending on your child’s age, ability to cooperate, and the extent of the speech disorder.
Usually, the following 3 tests are conducted.
- Hearing tests: Your SLP may suggest hearing tests to determine whether hearing problems are contributing to your child’s speech issues.
- Oral-motor assessment: During this test, the physician will examine your child’s lips, jaw, palate, and tongue for structural problems including tongue-tie, cleft palate, and low muscle tone.
- Speech evaluation: During speech evaluation, the SLP will evaluate your child’s ability to produce sounds, words, and sentences.
During the speech evaluation test, your child’s speech will be examined with the help of the following exercises or activities:
- Showing your child pictures of ordinary things like rain, rainbows, or grass, and then asking her to pronounce their names.
- Asking your child to repeat syllables such as “pa-ma-la” or words like “buttercup”.
- Asking your child to read one or two pages of a children’s book.
If your child is able to speak full sentences, then the SLP will evaluate your child’s rhythm of speech to check if she puts excessive stress on certain sounds.
Once all of the above is done, the SLP will have a good idea of your child’s speech strengths and weaknesses. With those observations in mind, the SLP will then create a program tailored to meet your child’s needs.
Depending on the severity of the condition and the potential for improvement, the SLP may ask you to bring your child for therapy 1-5 times a week.
On top of that, the SLP will also suggest several home treatment strategies and a detailed exercise plan.
How Can Parents Help?
As a parent, there’s a lot you can do to help your child improve her speech.
As we mentioned earlier, the first step is to see a speech-language pathologist. Consult them on everything related to your child’s speech and also discuss her daily routine.
Your SLP will then provide you with a detailed plan for treatment activities at home. Your job as a parent is to help your child follow the program as prescribed and do it regularly. A good rule of thumb for maximum participation is to keep things light-hearted and fun for the child.
To help your child make progress as fast and effectively as possible, you should try to involve every person in the treatment process who’s influential in your child’s life. That includes her SLP, teachers, and family members.
Lastly, you should offer emotional support to your child as she works hard to make progress. Motivating her when she’s feeling down and cheering her up on each step of the journey is one of the best things you can do for her as a parent.