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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