Principles of Motor Learning in Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)
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Principles of Motor Learning in Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

We use powerful motor learning principles to help children with CAS (Childhood Apraxia of Speech) learn how to produce better, clearer speech sounds in words, phrases and sentences.

What are these principles?

Principle 1: MASSED PRACTICE

This is where you see a child for lots of sessions in a shorter period of time, so for instance six weeks of three times weekly for 30 minutes.

This leads to motor performance or automaticity.

Principle 2. DISTRIBUTED PRACTICE

This is what I use, as most of my clients are not able to come and see me that often on a weekly basis. It is hard to travel in London and life is hectic. So I favour one session a week over say a term or two terms and a session is usually 45 minutes long.

This leads to improved Motor Learning and good generalisation.

During either Massed or Distributed Practice, we choose between 4 variables:

Principle 3: Constant vs Variable

Principle 4: Blocked vs Random

To explain:

Constant Practice is where we repeat the practice of a small handful of target words.

We practise the same target sound in the same word position, e.g. at the beginning of a word: ‘bee’, ‘bye’, ‘bow’, ‘baa’ or ‘key’, ‘car’, ‘cow’, ‘Kaye’ etc.

We keep the rate, pitch and intonation constant.

Variable Practice is where we vary the rate, volume, pitch and intonation of the targets

We use a larger number of sounds, and words that are motivating to say for the child.

For example, if a child loves Peppa Pig then I might choose the words: ‘Peppa’, ‘Daddy Pig’, ‘George’, ‘Mummy Pig’ and a couple of other favourite characters. My child might struggle with a number of sound sequences there but we will target them one by one.

We can also select simpler words like ‘cape’ and ‘cake’ or ‘tick’ and ‘tip’.

Blocked Practice is where we practise one target word for say five minutes then we move to another target word for the next five minutes and then we revert back to the first target word again and so on, so blocks of practice.

Random Practice means we practise several target words at the same time.

How do I decide on what to use?

Good question!

I always opt for distributed practice (weekly for up to 45 minutes).

Within that, I tend to find it most successful to start out with constant practice when a child is finding a certain sound sequence really hard and we need to just ‘nail it’. Bearing in mind I only pick sounds that my student can actually make in isolation, so we are not working on articulation! (where we focus on trying to elicit single sounds correctly – or even at all sometimes) Here in CAS work, we are working with sounds the student can make but is having trouble to add together, into a sequence that is needed to make a word sound right.

As soon as I feel we have some traction I will go to variable practice, i.e. I pick words that are either funny or interesting for the child and it can be a slightly larger number.

I tend to use blocked practice in the beginning or when working on vowels. That’s because it is more important we get our vowels right. They carry a word and are very important for overall speech intelligibility. Once we are on a roll, I tend to go more for random practice.

Example

Here in the video clip, we try and work the /e/ vowel in short words likes ‘bell’, ’fell’, ‘dell’, ‘sell’, ‘smell’ and I am using an AAC device to give a child’s voice as auditory feedback as well as using the PROMPT approach to help my student shape his vowels.

So this is:

  1. Distributed (1 x week for 45 minutes)
  2. Constant – we are practising the /e/ vowel in the same position in six different words
  3. Blocked – we did this: several repetitions of each word and after the sixth we moved to another sound, and then later we came back to this.

Please feel free to contact me if your child has speech sound difficulties. It is my passion. I love supporting children with apraxia.

Sonja McGeachie

Early Intervention Speech and Language Therapist

Feeding and Dysphagia (Swallowing) Specialist The London Speech and Feeding Practice

The London Speech and Feeding Practice


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Why ‘Prosody’ Matters in Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)
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Why ‘Prosody’ Matters in Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

Prosody refers to the ‘music’ of speech — the rhythm, pitch, stress, and volume that convey meaning and emotion beyond the literal words themselves. Think about a monotone statement like ‘Really?’ compared to one with a rising inflection, expressing genuine curiosity.

When I work with children on producing speech sound sequences, we focus on mastering individual sounds and then putting them together into target words. A crucial element that can significantly impact a child’s speech production is ‘prosody’.

In CAS, where the difficulty lies in planning and executing the motor movements for speech, prosody can be a powerful tool for producing clearer words and phrases.

Here’s why working on prosody is an essential tool in CAS speech therapy:

1.  It aids Motor Learning:

Apraxia of Speech means that the planning and execution of speech movements are impaired. When we use exaggerated intonation or stress patterns while modelling words, we are providing additional prosodic variation and, therefore, additional auditory cues. These cues often help my student to carry out the correct motor movements for a word or syllable sequence.

For instance, I might say ‘ball’ with a high-pitched emphasis on the ‘b’ sound. This auditory cue might be more effective in guiding the child’s tongue placement than simply repeating the word without variation.

In this little video clip I get my student to say the word ‘snuggle’ (since we were working on that particular sound sequence: snuggle, snout, snore and sneeze) with a high voice and then a lower voice ‘like a bear’ — again it provides that extra auditory cue, but, in addition, the fun aspect also helps to take away the intense focus on a tricky movement pattern.

By now the new pathways have been laid through repeated practice and now automaticity takes over and without too much effort my student can suddenly produce a motor pattern. It’s magical when it happens and gives me such a thrill.

2. It makes speech more engaging and natural sounding:

Children with CAS often sound robotic or flat due to challenges with prosodic elements. By incorporating variations in pitch, volume, and rhythm during therapy, we can help achieve a more natural flow of speech

3. It makes it easier to express our emotions:

Children with CAS often struggle to express themselves emotionally; partly through the difficulty of producing clear words — period, but also in addition due to the difficulties or absence of musicality and rhythm in their speech.

Therefore, it is so important to incorporate activities focused on practising different emotions with varied intonation patterns. This can really empower our students to put emotions into their words.

Good words to practise are fun words like ‘Wow!’ or ‘Yeiih’ or power words and phrases like ‘No!’ or ‘Gimme that’ etc.

Making Therapy Fun and Engaging:

Speech therapy for CAS doesn’t have to be all drills and exercises (though to be fair sometimes we can’t quite get round to making each and every word huge fun though we try…).

I aim to make all my sessions fun and have intrinsic rewards built into the speech practice where possible.

Home practice tips:

Therapy shouldn’t exist in a bubble. Working on prosody during sessions is crucial, but it’s equally important to integrate these skills into everyday interactions. Parents and caregivers can model appropriate prosody during playtime, story time, or even simple conversations. This consistent reinforcement helps our children to generalise their newfound skills and use them naturally in their daily lives.

  • Sing songs and rhymes: Songs naturally incorporate variations in pitch and rhythm. Singing familiar songs and creating silly rhymes can be a delightful way to practise prosody.
  • Use puppets and toys: Assign different voices and personalities to puppets or toys. This encourages children to experiment with pitch and volume to differentiate characters.
  • Read aloud with enthusiasm: Model expressive reading, varying your voice for different characters and emphasising key words. This makes reading time engaging and helps children understand the power of prosody.

Please feel free to contact me if your child has speech sound difficulties. It is my passion. I love supporting children with apraxia.

Sonja McGeachie

Early Intervention Speech and Language Therapist

Feeding and Dysphagia (Swallowing) Specialist The London Speech and Feeding Practice

The London Speech and Feeding Practice


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Speech prompts and strategies I use in Speech Sound Therapy
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Speech prompts and strategies I use in Speech Sound Therapy

This particular student has a mild motor planning difficulty and six weeks ago he came to me with a very strong lisp. In addition to the lisp he is struggling to produce a number of sounds, SH and L on its own and all the clusters (FL/BL/KL/PL) but also CH together with some vowel difficulties.

The prompts are a mix partially from the DTTC (Dynamic Temporal and Tactile Cueing) model by Dr Edythe Strand as well as phonological models I have learned over the years, and some of them are my own.

Visual/picture prompts and Images

Here I use the ‘Flat Tyre’ Sound, to offer as an image for a new S sound and the ‘Tick Tock’ Sound for a new image of the T sound. Both cards are from the Bjorem Speech Sound Deck, which I love and use almost daily.

Gestural Cues

I like to use all the ‘cued articulation’ hand cues by Jane Passy for consonants and fricatives. Here we use our fingers and hand to illustrate what our tongue does, and we also show whether a sound is voiced or voiceless. When I use one finger it is voiceless (k/f/s/p) and when I use two fingers for the same cue it means that the voice needs to be turned on: (g/v/z/b/n/m). For vowels I like to use Pam Marshalla’s cue system.

Simultaneous production

We say the word together.

Direct imitation

I say the word and my student copies me directly.

Imitation after a delay

I say the word and then after a little wait my student says the word.

Spontaneous production

My student has now learned to say the word by him/herself.

Offering feedback

It sounds like… I just heard… I didn’t hear the first sound there? Can you try again?

Letting the student reflect

By just shaking my head or by looking quizzical so that my student realises something didn’t quite go right.

Postitive reinforcement

‘Yes that was it, do it again, nice one…’

Cognitive reframing

This is a technique where we identify different semantic cues and metaphors or imagery cues, so instead of teaching or focusing on a sound we try out viewing each syllable from a different point of view.

For example: ‘yellow’. I have had great success with this one: we start with just saying ‘yeah yeah yeah’. I might make a little joke and say something like ‘imagine your mum says tidy your bedroom, what do you say or what do you think?’ Answer: ‘yeah yeah yeah’. Then we practice ‘low’ together, I might blow some bubbles high and low and we talk about ‘low’. And then we put ‘Yeah’ and ‘Low’ together and now we have YELLOW!! It might at first still sound a bit odd, like ‘yea-low’ but we soon shape that up and have the real word.

Each student is different and having a great rapport is crucial to our success.

Then a little game break after some 7–10 or so repetitions and always trying to finish on a positive note.

What game breaks do I use:

Very quick ones! Students can post something, place a counter in a game, take out a Jenga block from the tower, pop in a counter for ‘connect 4’, stick a sword into the Pop the Pirate barrel or add a couple of Lego blocks to something they are building.

I hope this is helpful, please contact me for any questions.

Sonja McGeachie

Early Intervention Speech and Language Therapist

Feeding and Dysphagia (Swallowing) Specialist The London Speech and Feeding Practice

The London Speech and Feeding Practice


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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Principles of motor learning in childhood apraxia of speech: A guide for parents and therapists
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Principles of motor learning in childhood apraxia of speech: A guide for parents and therapists

Image by Freepik

Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a complex neurological disorder that affects a child’s ability to plan and coordinate the movements necessary for speech production. Children with CAS often have difficulty with articulation, prosody, and fluency, making it challenging for them to communicate effectively. While there is no cure for CAS, speech and language therapy can significantly improve a child’s communication skills and overall quality of life. Understanding the principles of motor learning is crucial for both parents and speech therapists to support children with CAS on their speech journey.

What is MOTOR LEARNING?

Motor learning refers to the process of acquiring and refining new skills through practice and experience. This applies to all aspects of movement, including speech production. The brain constantly receives sensory information about the movements being made and adjusts them based on the desired outcome. A breakdown or interruption of this process can make it difficult for children to plan, sequence, and coordinate the intricate movements involved in speech.

What key principles do we use in speech and language therapy for motor learning?

  • Task Specificity: Speech Therapy activities that directly target the specific speech sounds or skills your child is working on. For example, if your child is struggling with /p/, practising isolated /p/ sounds, words with /p/, and phrases with /p/ would be most beneficial.
  • Massed vs. Distributed Practice: We consider the optimal amount and distribution of practice sessions throughout the day. Massed practice involves concentrated practice in a single session, while distributed practice spreads practice sessions throughout the day. The best approach depends on the individual child’s learning style and attention span.
  • Feedback: We provide clear and immediate feedback to help your child understand the accuracy and effectiveness of their attempts. This feedback can be auditory, visual, or touch based.
  • Error Correction: We aim to gently correct errors so that we can help your child refine their movements and avoid developing bad habits. The focus is on providing specific cues and guidance rather than simply pointing out mistakes.
  • Variety and Progression: We gradually introduce new challenges and variations in speech therapy activities to prevent plateaus and maintain motivation.
  • Motivation and Engagement: A big part of our work is to make therapy sessions fun and engaging to keep your child motivated and actively participating. We use games, songs, and activities that your child enjoys while incorporating targeted practice opportunities.

What about home work?

Yes we need your help and here are some examples of how this could look:

  • Task Specificity: During story time, focus on practising target sounds present in the story. Have your child repeat words or phrases containing the sound and encourage them to identify the sound in other words.
  • Massed vs. Distributed Practice: Instead of one long practice session, try shorter, more frequent sessions throughout the day. This can help maintain focus and prevent fatigue. It is recommended to go for 100 repetitions of the target sound per day, every day in between the sessions. We can decide together how you can best do that through either massed or distributed practice. We can decide after the session.
  • Feedback: Use a mirror to provide visual feedback on lip and tongue placement during sound production. Record the child’s speech and play it back to help them self-monitor their accuracy.

I quite like this mirror below but any table top mirror will work as long as it is not too small. Your child should see their whole face easily.

tabletop mirror
  • Error Correction: If the child makes an error, gently model the correct sound or movement without shaming or criticising. Provide specific cues such as ‘lips together’ for /p/ or ‘tongue up’ for /t/.
  • Variety and Progression: We will guide you on exactly what words to practise so this is something you need not worry about.
  • Motivation and Engagement: Use games, songs, and activities that your child enjoys. Play a game of ‘I Spy’ focusing on words with the target sound or create silly sentences with the sound to make practice fun.

Let’s work together!

It is crucial for parents, therapists, and other caregivers to work collaboratively to ensure a consistent and comprehensive approach to supporting your child’s speech development. Speech and Language Therapists can provide guidance and resources on implementing these principles at home, while parents can share observations and progress updates to inform therapy sessions.

Remember, every child with CAS learns at their own pace. By understanding and applying the principles of motor learning, parents and speech therapists can create a supportive and stimulating environment that empowers children with CAS to reach their full communication potential.

Do get in touch if you would like some in-person or on-line 1:1 support with this. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out alone.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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