Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a neurological disorder impairing the motor planning of speech sounds. This means that although a child may know what they want to say, they are unable to get the muscles used for speech to do what they need to do in order to produce the word(s).
Automatic speech that is more of a habit than a planned activity is easier with Childhood Apraxia of Speech. This would be a word or phrase that automatically occurs in a situation without having to think about it and is something that has been practiced many times (the “plan” has already been created for this particular word or phrase). For instance, saying “hi” when someone greets you would be an example of automatic speech. Other examples of automatic speech that children often use include “I love you”, “thank you”, “I do”, etc.
CAS can also co-exist with Oral Apraxia. However, both can occur independently as well. Oral Apraxia is a motor planning disorder that involves non-speech related mouth movements. As with CAS, Oral Apraxia produces a challenge for non-automatic movements, but the child can complete automatic movements. For instance, if a spoon of food is moving toward the child, she is able to open her mouth to accept the food. However, if you were to ask the same child without food coming toward her mouth to open her mouth, she would be unable (without therapeutic practice) to complete this task.
It is very important to remember that both Childhood Apraxia of Speech and Oral Apraxia are not muscle strength disorders. The muscles are physically able to perform the desired actions but cannot motor plan the correct sequence to accomplish the task.
Apraxia is not something that you can grow out of. However, with consistent speech therapy, communication can be improved.
Signs to look for if you are concerned about Apraxia:
- struggling to get their mouth/tongue/lips in the right spot
- fewer consonants/vowels for age level
- saying a word or sound in many different ways – inconsistency in pronunciation
- increased difficulty with longer phrases/sentences
- errors in intonation (i.e., putting stress on the wrong syllable in a word)
An evaluation completed by a Speech Language Pathologist is very important in the diagnosis of Childhood Apraxia of Speech as many symptoms of CAS are shared with other speech sound disorders. Getting the correct diagnosis will allow for the right treatment!