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Apraxia of Speech

Apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder. It causes difficulty speaking, not due to muscle weakness, but due to a breakdown in the brain's coordination of muscle movements. The person knows what he wants to say, but his brain has trouble planning voluntary movements of the lips, tongue, and other speech muscles in order to produce sounds or words.

Acquired Apraxia of Speech

Acquired apraxia of speech refers to the loss or impairment of speech skills that a person once had. It is caused by damage to the speech centers of the brain from stroke, traumatic brain injury, tumors, or other neurological diseases. It often occurs along with aphasia and may occur with dysarthria.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is also known as developmental apraxia. The symptoms become noticeable as the child learns to speak. CAS may be caused by neurological or genetic disorders, but most often the cause is not known. Children with CAS often have other speech, language and/or motor problems such as reduced vocabulary, trouble learning to read, or clumsiness.

Symptoms of Apraxia of Speech

Apraxia symptoms may be very mild, with only occasional problems producing long words or sequences of words. They may also be so severe that the person cannot voluntarily produce any sound. People with apraxia of speech may have difficulty ordering sounds in words (e.g., batle for table) or they may produce the wrong sounds altogether (e.g., dadle for table). They may become frustrated because they are usually aware of their mistakes and try repeatedly to correct their errors; often the harder they try, the more mistakes they make.

Symptoms include:

  • Inconsistent error patterns
  • More errors on longer words and words with more complex sound patterns
  • Difficulty imitating sounds or words
  • May be able to produce mouth movements without thinking about it (e.g., using the tongue to lick a piece of food off the lip) but cannot produce those same movements when they are told to
  • May be able to produce automatic speech such as counting, naming days of the week, or singing very familiar songs
  • Groping (trial and error movements of the mouth) may occur as the person tries to get his mouth into the correct position to say a word or sound
  • Abnormal rate, rhythm or intonation pattern of speech

Assessing and Treating Apraxia of Speech

Our Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP) will perform a variety of tests to look at the patient's motor speech skills. We may look at the patient's ability to imitate mouth movements, sounds, words, and sentences, or to say them without a model. We may also perform other speech and language tests to rule out other types of disorders. We will ask about the medical history for patients with acquired apraxia, and the developmental and family history for children with suspected CAS.

Therapy will include different activities to work on motor planning of speech movements. Patients may practice sounds, words and phrases in different ways, often moving from shorter/simpler to longer/more complex targets to practice sequencing and coordinating movements. Our speech pathologists may give different types of cues to help the patient say the targets correctly, and provide feedback to the patient about how well he or she is doing. Rhythm - clapping, tapping along with speech or singing – or a slow rate of speech may be used to make speech easier. The patient will usually need to practice these speech exercises at home. If apraxia is very severe, our speech pathologists may look at using an augmentative or alternative method of communication.