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What Is Childhood Apraxia?

A child with apraxia may learn sign language to more easily communicate until they can speak better.
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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Childhood apraxia is a speech disorder that affects children. It is technically known as childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). The main problem a child with CAS has is that he has trouble moving his mouth to produce intelligible words. Children with CAS can improve with regular speech therapy.

A kid with childhood apraxia of speech can mentally form words and sentences in his head, but the impulses from his brain cannot control the motor movements necessary. His tongue, palate, jaw, and lip movements are uncoordinated, so he produces incorrect sequences of sounds and syllables. He can understand language but cannot produce it.

Usually, when a child is learning to speak, he creates sounds that may not be understood. He then corrects himself through trial and error by taking into account the reactions of others around him. A child with childhood apraxia does not learn through trial and error in this way and needs specialized speech therapy to correct his language skills.

Various symptoms indicate CAS, not all of which may be present in each child. For example, an infant may not babble or coo. He may have trouble eating and may use only a few vowels or consonants. Older children can have problems with long words and put stress on the wrong syllables. A CAS child can understand much more language than he can say and may use a monotone when speaking.

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Other signs a child may have CAS are delays in developing language, problems with coordination, and not being able to remember words or mixing up the order of words in a sentence. He may also have sensitivity problems with his mouth and not like the feeling of a toothbrush or crunchy food. He may also be unable to identify something in his mouth through touch alone. CAS can also affect a child's reading, writing, and spelling skills.

These speech problems could also indicate other issues, such as hearing loss, so an audiologist should assess the child for an accurate diagnosis. The doctor will rule out motor weakness as the primary cause by checking the child's jaw and mouth muscles, and he or she will analyze the child's motor coordination. The doctor will listen to the child's speech patterns for syllable stress, pitch, and appropriate pauses in sentences. And, he or she will analyze the child's pronunciation of vowels, consonants, and other sounds.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a child with CAS learns best if he has several sessions of speech therapy a week in private sessions. The therapy involves practicing the coordination of the fine motor movements the child has problems with. Lessons may also incorporate sign language or a computer communication system as a temporary measure so the child can communicate better.

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