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How to Support Children With Apraxia of Speech

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Apraxia of speech is an acquired oral motor speech disorder affecting an individual’s ability to translate conscious speech plans into motor plans, which results in limited and difficult speech ability. Individuals affected become frustrated as they know exactly what they want to say, but due to a disruption in the part of the brain that sends the signal to the necessary muscles, they are unable to do so. As a result, they have difficulty carrying out the complex sequenced movements that are necessary for intelligible speech. This can lead to frustration in the classroom and in social settings. As an adult who was treated for apraxia of speech as a child, I learned that staying persistent while developing and maintaining a strong relationship with your speech therapist is pivotal to a successful outcome.

Effective treatments start with individual intensive therapy, focusing on your child’s attention to the sound and feel of speech movements. The therapist may touch your child’s face as they make certain sounds or syllables to help diagnose and treat your child. In addition, the therapist may do chewing and licking exercises to help enhance their oral motor skills.

In my experience, the hard part about having apraxia is how frustrating it can be. Speech therapy can lead to intense feelings of embarrassment, especially in the teenage years where other students are more likely to see you in the therapist’s office. A child with apraxia of speech may speak in a “funny-sounding” voice, and be at an extremely high risk of being bullied or teased. It’s important to help kids learn to keep their frustrations under control, as being cognitively and socially aware plays a tremendous role in their progress.

Children with apraxia can also struggle with frustration and low-self-esteem because traditional therapy (usually done in groups) is more language development-based. It utilizes language programs connected to vocabulary and writing that aren’t proven to be effective when treating apraxia. Students with apraxia understand what they are reading, but struggle physically to make the correct sounds to pronounce the words correctly. Since it is an oral motor challenge, therapy is focused on the mechanics of speech and is much more intense. Thus it is more effective for your child to physically pronounce words or phrases many times during a therapy session. As a result, some children begin to have self-esteem issues as they feel they are “too stupid” to talk right — which is not true at all.

Speech therapy was an up and down experience for me. On the positive side, traditional group speech therapy was still the chosen placement as I was beginning middle school. However, much to my disappointment a year-and-a-half later I was switched to individual therapy. It was emotionally devastating as I now saw myself as “stupid” though I knew deep down my needs were different. This lead to serious frustrations. However, I did have the ability to understand these negative feelings were triggered by my own self-esteem issues. As a result, I was still meeting my goals.

I also never stopped participating in therapy, as I knew deep down my therapist was exceptional at treating students with apraxia of speech. I can’t stress enough the importance of trusting your therapist as it will make it easier. By working hard together with your therapist, you have a chance to overcome the difficulties of apraxia of speech, paving the way for a brighter future.

While apraxia is a serious speech disorder which can lower a child’s self-esteem, the majority of children do learn to speak clearly or at an acceptable level. As a parent, it can be heartbreaking to see your child require speech therapy for so long — but therapy isn’t a quick fix for a disorder like apraxia, and your speech therapist isn’t a miracle worker. Understanding this from the beginning can help you accept the process. I know from my own personal experience this understanding can strengthen the relationship between you and your therapist, which will make your therapy even more meaningful. I believe based on my experience that by working effectively with your therapist and with adequate family support, overcoming the challenges of apraxia of speech is quite possible.

Getty image by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz.

Originally published: May 12, 2019
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