Childhood Apraxia is a motor speech disorder that affects a child’s ability to speak. Speech therapists at Nationwide Children’s Hospital estimate as many as 10 children out of 1,000 are affected by this disorder. This neurological disorder affects the neural pathways involved in planning and executing the series of movements involved in producing speech.
In order to speak, your brain sends messages to your mouth, jaw, and tongue, telling them how to move and when to make sounds. Children with childhood apraxia know what they want to say, but they cannot properly sequence the required speech sound movements because those messages cannot be communicated correctly. These children cannot learn speech sounds in the usual order and won’t make progress without treatment. The exact cause of childhood apraxia is unknown, but it may be caused by a genetic disorder, stroke, or traumatic brain injury.
For most children learning to speak, they make word attempts and get feedback from others, as well as their own internal sensory systems about how properly the produced words matched their intention. The feedback children receive from their word attempts is used in their next attempt, essentially teaching them how to speak from experience and practice. As syllables and words are spoken repeatedly, the motor movements of the articulators become automatic and we don’t have to think about how to say what we want to say.
Reaching this point of development means speech motor plans and programs are stored in our brains and can be quickly accessed whenever needed. Children with Childhood Apraxia cannot form or reliably access this information; the movements do not become automatic as they learn to speak, leading to a variety of symptoms. Here at Brain Forest Centers, we are passionate about educating parents as to the signs and symptoms of Childhood Apraxia so they can get their child the help they need if the signs occur.
Many children with Childhood Apraxia experience limited vocalization, sound play, and babbling during infancy. Parents often describe these children as “quiet babies.” These kids make excessive use of nonverbal forms of communication, going even so far as to develop their own form of gestural communication. This symptom can also manifest as limited variation within babbling, wherein the infant or toddler consistently babbles the same sound or same set of sounds.
Children with Childhood Apraxia often have difficulty pronouncing words correctly. Word sounds, especially vowels, often come out distorted as the child may not be able to place his articulators in the right place to make the sounds he or she wishes to. Longer or more complex words are usually more difficult to say than shorter, simpler words, often leading to sound substitutions.
Children who struggle with forming the proper sounds may often omit consonants at the beginnings or ends of words, may only be able to form a few consonant or vowel sounds, and may have little differentiation between vowel productions. This symptom can also manifest as voicing errors, in which sounds are produced very similarly except the incorrect sound is produced, which may be a substitute for the desired sound. For example, “P” and “B” are produced very similarly, except that “P” does not use the vocal cords in production and “B” does. This can cause “pie” to sound the same as “bye” when voiced by children struggling with this symptom.
Children with Childhood Apraxia often make inconsistent errors in speech, being able to say a difficult word correctly but not be able to repeat it. These speech mistakes are often unpredictable, and many kids struggling with this symptom don’t always say words the same way every time. This symptom can also manifest as initial and final consonant deletion, syllable omissions, or sound substitutions and distortions. This symptom applies to sound as much as it does to words, as many children struggling with this may be able to form a certain sound one day and struggle with the same sound the next day.
Children with Childhood Apraxia struggle to deliver speech, often performing trial and error behavior as they grope for the right sound or word. This can manifest as sound groping movements in the articulator muscles as they try to make the correct movement for the desired speech sounds. This can affect the child’s speech as he or she makes sound repetitions, prolongations, or silent posturing. Silent posturing means the child’s mouth moves silently while he or she searches for the correct motor movements. The child may also use short sounds or words repeatedly, trying to buy themselves time to find the proper position for the next sound or word they want to make.
Errors in Tone, Stress, and Rhythm
Another common symptom of Childhood Apraxia is the incorrect use of rhythm, rate, stress, and inflection of speech used to help express meaning. These kids may use equal stress, omit syllables in words or phrases, speak too slowly or too fast, segment syllables in a word, sound monotone, or pause inappropriately while speaking.
Children struggling with stress and rhythm in speech may have difficulty stringing syllables together in the correct order or struggle to move smoothly from one sound, syllable, or word to another, causing connected speech to be more unintelligible.
Brain Forest Centers: Neurofeedback Treatment for Childhood Apraxia
Neurofeedback has been proven to be an effective treatment in cases of Childhood Apraxia. For more information on how Brain Forest Centers can help your child learn to speak properly, visit our website.