Verbal apraxia is known by several names. You might hear it called childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) or developmental apraxia or dyspraxia. It is one of the oral motor disorders, in which a child doesn’t have sufficient control over the muscles of his mouth to make the speech sounds clearly enough or rapidly enough to produce intelligible speech. Muscle weakness isn’t the problem – it’s a disconnect between his brain and the muscles, seen more often in boys than in girls. He knows what he wants to say, but his brain can’t complete the planning necessary to get his lips, jaw, and tongue moving together to say the words. He might be able to produce each sound in a word but have difficulty getting the sounds in correct sequence rapidly for clear, connected speech.
Some of the signs of verbal apraxia in young children include:
- Does not coo or babble as an infant
- First words are late, and may be missing sounds
- Produces only a few different consonant and vowel sounds
- Has problems combining sounds; may pause between sounds
- More than most children, simplifies words by replacing difficult sounds with easier ones or deleting them altogether
- May have (or had in the past) problems with eating
In most cases, the cause of verbal apraxia is unknown. Some possible causes include genetic disorders or syndromes, and stroke or brain injury. Often times, there are no other difficulties present.
How can I help my child with verbal apraxia?
Though verbal apraxia in children is also known as developmental apraxia, it’s not something children just outgrow. They need treatment to be able to progress to more normal speech. Early intensive intervention can help a child make significant progress.
A speech-language pathologist experienced with CAS can evaluate your child to determine the nature of the problem and rule out other causes. Often, symptoms are not readily obvious, and therapists start treatment, seeing what strategies work and don’t work, making the diagnosis over time. She may refer you for audiological testing to rule out hearing loss. She will also assess your child’s oral-motor abilities, melody of speech, speech sound development, and language skills.
Research shows that children with verbal apraxia are more successful when treatment is frequent (three to five times per week) and intensive. Children treated alone tend to do better than children treated in groups. As children improve, they may need treatment less often, and then group therapy may work better.
Practice at home makes a huge difference. Here at CTS, we will give your family assignments to help your child progress and use new strategies outside of the clinic. Treating verbal apraxia takes time, commitment, and support. We will do all we can to support you so you can support your child.