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Diagnosis spotlight: Verbal apraxia

Verbal apraxia: What is it and how can you tell if you're child might have it?

Explanation: A neurological speech disorder in which a child's brain has difficulty coordinating the complex oral movements needed to create sounds into syllables, syllables into words, and words into phrases. It affects the brain pathways involved in planning the sequence of movements involved in producing speech. The brain knows what it wants to say, but cannot properly plan and sequence the required speech sound movements.

Signs: - May stress the wrong syllable in a word - Does not always say the same word the same way each time - Repeated attempts to say a word - Distorting of vowel sounds - Leaving out consonants at the beginning or end of words - Seems to struggle with getting words out

How it's diagnosed:

A speech language pathologist will do formal testing where they will ask the child to perform speech tasks such as repeating a particular word several times or repeating a list of words of increasing length (for example, love, loving, lovingly).

How it's treated:

Speech therapy is crucial to helping a child with this diagnosis. It will not resolve itself on its own. A speech language pathologist works with the child on improving the planning, ordering and in tandem movement of the muscles used in making sounds and speech.

The most crucial part of seeing improvement when a child has this diagnosis, depending on the severity, is intense therapy sessions and lots of practice! It can help to use the different senses to make practice have more of an impact.

Sometimes adding a visual clue like watching themselves in the mirror while practicing can help. Or, the child can listen to a recording of someone saying the word the correct way, with pauses for the child to repeat what they hear. To add the sense of touch, the therapist may tap the child on the jaw when that part of the jaw is used to form a word.

Some children with childhood apraxia of speech are taught sign language or may use a device such as an iPad to help them communicate. This can be helpful in the case where the apraxia makes it very hard for the child to speak. Once the treatments begin to help, the child can phase out the use of sign language and devices, but they can really help lower the child’s level of frustration in certain cases.

Like all diagnoses, the severity levels range from minimal to extreme. If your child has this diagnosis or if these symptoms sound familiar, we can help. We work with all of our families to help children reach their fullest potential, no matter what that is.

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