Childhood Apraxia Of Speech: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

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A speech disorder, childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), is a rare neurological condition. As a result, children with CAS cannot express themselves correctly and consistently.

CAS affects the brain and prevents the child from coordinating complex oral movement sequences that produce speech by converting sounds into words, syllabus, and phrases. The disorder is not due to muscle weakness, but children suffering from it may find it difficult to move their lips and tongue while pronouncing words or producing sounds (1).

This post will help you understand the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment strategies for CAS.

How Common Is CAS?

CAS is not a common condition (1). While the exact prevalence of CAS is unknown and the available data is unreliable due to inconsistencies and inadequacies in the studies conducted, it is estimated to affect one or two in 1,000 children. In addition, it is more common in boys than girls (2).

Symptoms Of CAS

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the following are the three most common symptoms that help distinguish CAS from other speech disorders (2).

  • When repeatedly pronouncing some syllables or words, the child makes inconsistent errors in terms of vowel and consonant sounds—the child may say the same word differently every time they try to pronounce it.
  • Lengthened and disrupted coarticulatory transition between sounds and syllables—the child may speak in a disjointed manner since they struggle with transitioning between sounds or words.
  • The child may use inappropriate prosody, such as incorrect use of intonation, or they may stress the wrong syllables while speaking.

However, these symptoms are not conclusive, and their frequency may change with age, the severity of the symptom, or complexity of the task.

The following are some other symptoms of CAS (1).

  • Articulatory groping—the child may fumble for the right word or sound and may try producing it repeatedly before getting it right (3)
  • Consonant speech distortion
  • Difficulty in smoothly transitioning between sounds
  • Increased difficulty in pronouncing more complex constructions
  • Inserting a schwa (an unstressed vowel sound) between consonant clusters or at the end of words. For example, “plane” would be pronounced as “peh-lane” (4)
  • Talking at a slow speed
  • Pausing between sounds, syllables, or words that affect smooth transitions
  • Producing voiceless sounds instead of voiced sounds
  • Vowel distortion or substitution
  • Late development of speech skills
  • Limited sound inventory—lack of variety in the consonant and vowel sounds expected at a certain age
  • Frequent reduction in the number of words produced

Causes And Risk Factors For CAS

In most cases, the cause of CAS is unknown. However, impairment to the brain due to a genetic disorder, syndrome, stroke, or traumatic brain injury may be responsible for the occurrence of CAS (5). Additionally, a child may be at an increased risk of developing CAS if other family members have communication disorders or learning disabilities (6).

Diagnosis Of CAS

Diagnosing CAS can be challenging as it is a complex disorder with symptoms similar to several other speech and language disorders. Thus, a specialist, such as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), would be required to help you arrive at the right diagnosis.

The SLP will start by asking about the child’s medical history and the symptoms you notice in them. Then, the SLP may talk to the child and observe their speech patterns over several sessions. These sessions would typically involve the SLP asking your child to repeat the same word several times, or the child might be asked to repeat a list of words of increasing length. The child may also need language testing (6).

Treatment For Childhood Apraxia Of Speech

Speech-language therapy is the primary treatment for CAS. Your child’s SLP might use various methods such as (6)

  • Articulation or phonological therapy.
  • Adapted cueing technique.
  • Orofacial myofunctional therapy.
  • Prompt for restructuring oral muscular phonetic targets therapy (PROMPT system).
  • Biofeedback treatments.

Children with CAS may benefit from the following activities conducted during the treatment (1).

  • Repeated practice of sound sequences, words, and phrases
  • The use of visual prompt cards to exhibit how sounds are used to make words and sentences.
  • Encouragement and support to say the same word simultaneously with the caregiver or SLP.

Children with CAS need several one-on-one speech therapy sessions. A team of occupational therapists, developmental pediatricians, and special education specialists can help with the treatment. However, the progress and outcome of the treatment differ for each child. For children with severe symptoms, alternative modes of expression, also known as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, might be needed (5). The different AACs that are recommended for children include

  • Learning informal sign language
  • Communicating using picture boards
  • Using a portable computer to write and produce speech

It is important to note that the child may not depend on AAC forever, and their speech may improve with age and consistent treatment. These other modes of communication will help the child improve their communication skills and reduce their frustration.

The goal of the treatment is to help the child pronounce sounds, words, and sentences more clearly and easily. The treatment will help the child learn how and when to plan their oral movements to say the sounds they intend to (5).

Prognosis And Prevention Of CAS

It is not possible to prevent CAS because the exact cause of CAS is unknown (7). Thus, speech and language therapy should be relied on as a treatment method. Children may take a while to show improvement, but many improve substantially with regular and persistent speech and language therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does childhood apraxia of speech go away?

Childhood apraxia of speech cannot go away on its own nor be outgrown. CAS needs to be treated for improvement of speech (5).

2. Is apraxia a form of autism?

Autism and apraxia are developmental disabilities, but their epidemiology and diagnosis differ. However, CAS may be associated with speech impairment in children with non-verbal ASD (8) (9).

3. Is CAS serious?

CAS can be mild, moderate, and severe, and the treatment may vary accordingly. Young children with the severe type mostly use gestures rather than words, while older ones have difficulty saying single phrases and words (10) (11).

4. What part of the brain is damaged in apraxia of speech?

Apraxia of speech mainly affects the brain’s left frontal and temporal lobes. CAS is believed to reduce the size and glucose consumption of these parts of the brain (12).

5. How can I help my child with speech apraxia?

A child with CAS needs utmost family support. You may try to help them by using sign language for better communication, gain insights into what they learn in their treatments with the speech-language pathologists, and practice the lessons to help them (5).

6. Can childhood apraxia of speech affect reading?

Yes, about 50 to 75% of children affected with CAS may have reading difficulties. They may have problems learning to read and understand the different words and their meanings (13).

Since the treatment of CAS is extensive and lengthy, the child will need a lot of support. You may repeat the exercises done at the therapy sessions when at home. If you notice your child exhibiting any symptoms of CAS, contact your healthcare provider, as early intervention helps get better outcomes.

Key Pointers

  • Childhood Apraxia Of Speech (CAS) is an uncommon speech disorder that affects an estimated one to two children in 1000.
  • Difficulty in producing longer, complex words/phrases and use of inappropriate prosodies, such as stressing the wrong syllables, are its main symptoms.
  • The precise cause of CAS is unknown, but impairment in brain function due to a genetic disorder, stroke, or traumatic brain injury can be the cause in some cases.
  • Speech-language therapy using methods, such as articulation or phonological therapy, and adapted cueing techniques can improve the child’s speech.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Childhood Apraxia of Speech Causes Symptoms and Treatment.
    https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/childhood-apraxia-speech
  2. Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
    https://www.asha.org/practice-portal/clinical-topics/childhood-apraxia-of-speech/#collapse_1
  3. Apraxia of Speech.
    https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/apraxia-speech
  4. Treatment of sound errors in aphasia and apraxia of speech: Effects of phonological complexity.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392129/
  5. Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
    https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/childhood-apraxia-of-speech/
  6. Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
    https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions—pediatrics/c/childhood-apraxia-of-speech.html
  7. Childhood Apraxia of Speech.
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17911-childhood-apraxia-of-speech
  8. Eugenia Conti et al. (2020); Autism Spectrum Disorder and Childhood Apraxia of Speech: Early Language-Related Hallmarks across Structural MRI Study;
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33322765/
  9. Lawrence D. Shriberg et al. (2011); The Hypothesis of Apraxia of Speech in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder;
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3033475/
  10. Severity levels of CAS;
    https://childapraxiatreatment.org/severity-levels/
  11. Severe CAS;
    https://childapraxiatreatment.org/severe-cas/#:~:text=Severe%20CAS%20indicates%20that%20thegestures%20like%20pointing%20to%20communicate.
  12. Kirrie J. Ballard et al. (2014); Behavioral computational and neuroimaging studies of acquired apraxia of speech;
    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00892/full
  13. Reading disorders;
    https://childapraxiatreatment.org/reading-disorders/
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Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a certified lactation counsellor from iNational Health Care Academy, Singapore and a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. She did her graduation in Dentistry from KM Shah Dental College. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate... more

Dr. Dur Afshar Agha

(MS)
Dr. Dur Afshar Agha is a consultant pediatrician with decades of experience in various medical facilities both in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. She has headed the Department of Preventive Pediatrics at the prestigious, Children’s Hospital and Institute of Child Health in Pakistan and is a life member of the Pakistan Paediatric Association. She has also completed her Post Graduate Program... more

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