What is apraxia?

The diagnosis of "Childhood Apraxia of Speech" (CAS) has been gaining publicity recently. So what exactly is it? How can I know if my child has apraxia? What can be done to help children with CAS communicate  effectively?

CAS is a motor speech disorder, meaning it affects the muscles used to talk. However the problem actually originates in the brain. Children with apraxia know exactly what they want to say, but when they attempt to say it, they have trouble planning the small muscular movements necessary for a smooth sequence of sounds, words, and phrases.

Some characteristics to watch for if you suspect your child has CAS:

  • Difficulty with sound combinations; child deletes sounds or makes substitutions

  • Groping with lips or tongue when speaking

  • Inconsistency with errors; child produces the same word in multiple ways

  • Child speaks more clearly on shorter phrases than on longer ones

  • Speech sounds choppy or child puts stress/emphasis on the wrong syllables and words

  • Expresses frustration when others do not understand

Fortunately, there are many resources and treatments available to help children with CAS. Speech therapists also work with families to train parents and siblings how best to respond to and coach their children with apraxia. After diagnosing CAS, a speech therapist will develop a treatment plan that could include one or more of the following concepts, depending on a child's individual needs:

  • Teaching specific syllable types (consonant-vowel, vowel-consonant, consonant-vowel-consonant), working on transitions between speech sounds

  • Using visual and auditory feedback (mirror and recorder) to teach child to monitor his/her own speech

  • Developing a home program to practice outside of therapy

  • Teaching alternative communication modes to decrease frustration (signing, computer devices)

Additionally, there are outside resources available to the public that can provide support for children with CAS and their families:

  • Click here for an in-depth explanation of the CAS diagnosis and treatment options, compiled by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA)

  • Click here for a large support network for families of children with CAS in North America, full of useful information, support forums, and CAS-awareness products for sale.