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What is Childhood Apraxia of Speech? (And how does speech therapy help?)

What is childhood apraxia of speech?

Speech is normally a cohesive process that starts with a thought and results in a sound or series of sounds that we know as words. In order for these words to form, the brain sends signals to the muscles of the tongue, lips, face, and soft palate. Sometimes as a child is learning speech, the signals and muscles don’t work together as they should and they are unable to articulate what they are trying to say.

The child may not be able to form sounds consistently or at all even though their muscles aren’t weak or damaged. They know what they are trying to say but are unable to make the precise muscle movements involved with speech. When this happens it is a speech disorder known as childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). Some also refer to CAS as developmental apraxia or verbal apraxia.

What are the signs of childhood apraxia of speech?

Signs can vary depending on each child, but there are common symptoms of CAS to watch for. A child might have CAS but only show a few of the signs. Your child may have CAS if they are older than 3 years of age and are demonstrating any of the signs below:

–>  Inconsistently saying words or sounds
–>  Placing emphasis on the wrong syllables
–>  Able to say shorter words more clearly than longer words
–>  Difficulty with proper timing, rhythm, tone, and flow of speech

Children with CAS may also have non-speech related difficulties including:

–>  Delayed language development
–>  Issues with sensory processing
–>  Problems with reading, writing, spelling, or math
–>  Possible issues with feeding during infancy or early childhood

To get a proper diagnosis, find a speech language pathologist near you.

Is there a specific cause of apraxia?

Although CAS can be referred to as developmental apraxia, children don’t outgrow this speech disorder on their own.Treatment is needed to make progress.

The cause is usually unknown, but it can be part of a larger disorder such as autism or cerebral palsy. Researchers also believe the cause may also be tied to genetics. Children that are diagnosed with CAS often have a family member who has been diagnosed with a learning disability or communication disorder.

How is childhood apraxia of speech diagnosed?

To have an accurate diagnosis a child should receive a thorough evaluation by a speech language pathologist with experience treating childhood apraxia of speech. CAS is a complex disorder that can be confused with other speech or language disorders, so those will need to be ruled out first.

During the evaluation, the SLP will assess the child by conducting a series of tests to determine their current speech and language skills like expressive and receptive language abilities. They will also go over previous medical history and ask questions about how your family typically communicates at home.

What is the treatment for childhood apraxia of speech?

Because CAS will not go away on its own, your child should work closely with a licensed Speech Pathologist. They will tailor your child’s treatment plan to their age, severity of CAS, and other language problems. Treatment may last for several years, so be sure to find an SLP that is right for your child. You can see my tips for finding the right SLP for your child or loved one here.

Treatment might be intense in the beginning with frequent speech therapy sessions each week. Your SLP will meet one-on-one with your child and try various methods. Apraxia Kids breaks down different treatment approaches such as:

–>  Multi-sensory cueing
–>  Phonetic placement
–>  Tactile facilitation

The treatment plan can involve multiple approaches and methods depending on the severity and can also change with your child’s age. As more progress is being made the sessions may not need to be as frequent or may be done in a group setting.

It’s not uncommon for children with CAS to use other ways to communicate. It’s important to make communication a positive experience so your child doesn’t get discouraged or frustrated while they are learning to increase their skills. Sign language, picture books, or voice output devices are common tools used. These tools will help your child to express themselves until they are able to do so through speech.

How can I support my child with childhood apraxia of speech?

As a parent or caregiver you have the biggest responsibility in your child’s treatment outcomes. Having a supportive family is key to achieving the desired progress. Practice is what will make the most difference for your child.

Ask your SLP if there are exercises you can do at home. Don’t pressure your child, and be patient when they aren’t up to speaking. Pushing your child too hard can hinder progress. You want it to be fun for them, so make it a positive and encouraging experience. Get the entire family on board and show them how they can be involved to maximize your child’s attempts to communicate.
What are the next steps?
Talk to your child’s healthcare provider about any concerns you have regarding their speech or language development. They can refer you to a speech therapist so you can discuss treatment options.

You can also use our database to search for a SLP that specializes in childhood apraxia of speech. Find a speech therapist near you today!

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